Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 6, 2016

Brain Drain: Self-Imposed Term Limits Shuffle Committees, House GOP Leadership


Kline is among the Republicans who might be forced to hand over a gavel given self-imposed term limits. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Kline is among the Republicans who could be forced to hand over a gavel given self-imposed term limits, though he may receive a waiver. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Republicans are facing a brain drain of historic proportions atop their committees — as many as half of their chairmen could be forced to step down next year, thanks to a 20-year-old rule.

The shakeup is due mostly to the GOP’s self-imposed limit, adopted in 1994, on how long a Republican congressman can chair a committee. It’s a policy that is widely popular within the Republican Conference, but is increasingly being questioned by members losing their gavels.

The impending shuffle will do little to change the demographics of the Republican leadership structure — almost all of the white men leading the committees will be replaced by other white men. But critics say the debate is about more than optics. Term limits, they say, effectively sideline some of the party’s most effective legislators.  

“You want the best person in the job and I just think to have an arbitrary term limit cuts into that,” said Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., a former Homeland Security Committee chairman and a longtime opponent of the practice. “Term limits are anti-democratic. You’re telling voters they can’t vote for someone they want to vote for.”

Proponents, however, say the negatives associated with limiting chairmen or ranking members to three terms are outweighed by the positives  of keeping committees vital with fresh ideas and preventing a small group of members from consolidating too much power. “We’re losing a lot of great chairmen obviously,” Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma told CQ Roll Call. “That’s kind of the nature of the beast since they changed the rules in the 1990s. … I think the rotation’s healthy. I think it’s here to stay.”

Either way, the six-year maximum is unlikely to change, and it will cause abnormally high turnover after this year. Three term-limited chairman are retiring, most notably 60-year-old Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., a well-liked member of the conference who has been pushing unsuccessfully for years to rewrite the tax code.

Also retiring in the face of term limits are Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., and Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash. Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers of Michigan also is retiring, though he has another term left on the committee before he is capped.

At a January news conference announcing his retirement, McKeon, 75, said reaching his term limit was the “biggest motivator” of his decision. Camp, when asked earlier this month whether he thinks term limits are a mistake, told reporters, “Yeah. I think so.”

Also term-limited are Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma, Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa of California and Small Business Chairman Sam Graves of Missouri, all of whom will likely remain in Congress with diminished influence.

Education Chairman John Kline of Minnesota, meanwhile, will have served five years as chairman or ranking member because he started his tenure midway through the 110th Congress, replacing McKeon. (McKeon headed to Armed Services to replace John M. McHugh of New York, who resigned to become President Barack Obama’s secretary of the Army.)

Kline’s future is left up to the Republican Steering Committee, a secretive cabal of leadership-aligned members who decide by vote who will chair committees. He has made it clear that he will ask for a waiver to stay on as chairman for another term.

Sources told CQ Roll Call that Kline will likely get the pass, both because he is personally close to Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, who controls several votes on the Steering Committee, and because there is precedent for his situation: King served for more than seven years as Homeland Security chairman because he started his first term midway through the 109th Congress.

(If Kline doesn’t get the waiver, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., could be next in line. She would be only the second female to hold a gavel: Over at the House Administration Committee, Candice S. Miller of Michigan is the GOP’s lone chairwoman.)

McKeon’s decision to opt against asking for a waiver helps Kline, as well, by not putting Boehner in the bind of making an all-or-nothing decision about keeping gavels in the hands of his close friends. McKeon narrowly won a vote to become the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee in the 110th Congress, in part because of his relationship with the speaker. His opponent then, Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, will likely ascend to the chairmanship next year, and keeping him waiting any longer is unlikely sit well with the House Republican Conference.

Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, also is looking to raise his profile, and he’ll likely succeed Camp at Ways and Means. Rep. Tom Price of Georgia is a candidate to take over the Budget Committee in Ryan’s place.

Other chairmen face more uncertain path to maintaining their status. Issa has indicated he may ask for a waiver, but sources said it is unclear whether he would receive one. Issa could instead score subcommittee chairmanships: He is a member of the Judiciary Committee and could reclaim his seniority on Energy and Commerce, a panel from which he is on leave. He could eventually be in the running to be chairman of either committee.

“Without regard to term limit decisions and how they have changed Congress, he has many good options ahead of him in his congressional career,” Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said.

If Issa departs, he leaves a wide-open race for a replacement. Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Jim Jordan and Michael R. Turner of Ohio and John L. Mica of Florida are all possible candidates.

Lucas has said he would consider asking for a waiver if sweeping agricultural legislation remained unfinished. With that task now behind him, he is likely to hand the gavel to Ethics Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway of Texas, who told reporters he has been campaigning for the post all year. That would leave another vacancy atop the Ethics Committee, where Boehner has the sole power to appoint a Republican of his choosing.

Graves said in a statement that he is unlikely to seek a waiver, and sources said he would probably not receive one to remain chairman of the low-wattage Small Business Committee. Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio could become that panel’s top Republican next year, reclaiming the spot he had before he was ousted from Congress by losing his 2008 re-election bid.

Hastings’ Natural Resources gavel could go to Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, who declined to say whether he is running. King and Rep. Devin Nunes of California lead a crowded field to replace Rogers as Intelligence chairman. That post, like Ethics, is appointed by the speaker.

Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.


Related stories:

Conservatives Still Fuming Over Secret ‘Doc Fix’ Voice Vote (Video)

Roll Call Casualty List

Camp Out, Rough Week: Michigan Delegation Facing Depleted Hill Clout

Unemployment Extension Vote Not Worrying House Republicans

Get breaking news alerts from Roll Call on your iPhone or in your inbox.

  • Derrick Schnur

    Republican leadership structure — almost all of the white men leading the committees will be replaced by other white men. But critics say the debate is about more than optics. Term limits, they say, effectively sideline some of the party’s most effective legislators.

    “You want the best person in the job and I just think to have an arbitrary term limit cuts into that,” said Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., a former Homeland Security Committee chairman and a longtime opponent of the practice. “Term limits are anti-democratic. You’re telling voters they can’t vote for someone they want to vote for.”

    Listen Peter, you brainless idiot, you don’t get it. WE ARE NOT VOTING FOR YOU! Term limits are most certainly democratic, how do you figure they are not? So you selfish basterds can continue down the same old path, OF GETTING NOTHING DONE?
    If it were up to me politics would not be a career for anyone. You should not be allowed to serve two consecutive terms in ANY position within government, not even as President.
    Citizens should have direct control over all issues. In this day and age of technical advancement, we no longer need to pay individuals to represent our interests, because they don’t serve our interests now. They never really have. It is an illusion that they call representation. Screw you, I will make my own decisions in my own best interest. Why continue to buy oats for a dead horse?
    If Congress accomplishes hardly anything, then it is time for a change in the way we go about this process of law. Congress was doomed to fail from it’s inception….why the name gives it away…. Con is the opposite of Pro, and Progress is what we want because all we have seen is the opposite of change–stagnation! Allow each individual to be heard. Now more than any other time in the history of the world we have the capability to speak for ourselves, and right now that is what I am doing. I do NOT need nor do I want a talking mouthpiece who only has his own interests at heart. If he disagrees with me, he thinks he’s right and we’re wrong. Bull! There is no such thing as right. Blessed are the victorious, for victory is the basis of right! May the best man win… bring it–putos!

    • Floyd_Perez


      • Derrick Schnur

        Go to hell!

      • Derrick Schnur

        At least I have a profile picture. You are more of a troll just for making that statement.

  • Stephen Barlow

    Good riddance to bad rubbish. When does Issa get the ax?

    And wht’s to prevent the welching Party from renegging on their own rules as they have done countless times on promises to the voters and deals with the President?

  • Derrick Schnur

    I’ve been thinking more and more about how all of this “governing” and “representation” is a worn out way of doing things. It worked back in the day when not everyone could meet in the same places to discuss issues and act on their own behalf….Well, not any more! Just look at how many people respond and vote on American Idol or The Voice. The numbers are amazing…..certainly far more than what turns out at an election.
    You cannot blame people for being disengaged from a system that tells them they have a choice, but is must be between two piles of the same steamy dung for which the make a choice. That’s like me telling you, “You can do it your own way, if it’s done just how I say!”
    This is why they’ve attempted to keep citizens uneducated and disinterested in order to keep things going as they always have. The internet is the worst possible invention to have ever been created!!! It will be the key tool/weapon in the early stages of the revolution….. Yes, the revolution has begun. The first part of this war is the idealogical war, and it is one you old men are losing. Change is coming as it has for a millennium. Only difference is now the velocity is increasing exponentially. Fact of the matter is, you people are no longer in control. You know it and I know it and soon everyone will know it which is why there is a concerted effort to restrict the internet or police it.
    It is too late. Doesn’t matter now. We have reached critical mass with awakening the one’s who didn’t want to be awakened to begin with. If we can vote for an artist on American Idol, I can voice my opinion on issues of any/all topics. WE NO LONGER NEED OR WANT YOUR REPRESENTATION, SO BEAT IT……JUST DON’T DO IT ON THE SIDEWALK. ENJOY THE VIEW WHEN YOU LOOK AROUND, BECAUSE IT WILL SOON CHANGE AND NEVER BE THE SAME EVER AGAIN! I embrace each new day along with the opportunity it brings!!!

  • Andre Leonard

    Considering the sad state of our nation under these GOP leaders. It’s only fitting that change has finally come and some of these dinosaurs be termed out.

    With $17 trillion in debt, 47 million on public assistance and 15 million illegals wandering America’s streets. We need to have limits on these “leadership” posts.

  • justavenger

    What we now is real term limits and no K Street after office.

  • Philip Blumel

    OK, so incumbents don’t like to be term limited? This is news? We hear the same grumbling from politicians at all levels of government. For Congressional committee chairs it is particularly important because of the immense power they wield. If a shakedown artist like Dave Camp is not term limited, he could be extorting taxpayers forever and he would be rewarded for the very same anti-social behavior that makes him a successful Ways and Means chair. We need term limits on the entire Congress, not just on some committee chairs.

  • Traid Domon

    Don’t waste your time at trading forums to learn to trade these places are no good, I learned my lesson the hard way. Go over to the website Traders Superstore I recently found them purchase their courses and now I’m learning to trade for myself and finding it’s nowhere near as hard as I thought it was. The guy there showing how to make $500 a day through a very simple technique he developed which works! I know because I’m doing it myself, takes a little practice but if I can do it anybody can.

  • Manny Bartow

    Since plunder destroys liberty and stalls civilization’s advance, it leads to even more demands to redistribute even more wealth, thus accelerating the downward spiral.

  • Liberalism is Nonsense

    If we are to choose our own goals, rather than having them dictated to us, we must be rewarded for applying our talents wisely and not for simply having merit as judged by others.

  • Texmom

    The republican wing of the Democratic Party always wins out anyway.

  • NorgeX

    What Brain??? In DC?? This is a joke…right?

Sign In

Forgot password?



Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...