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Democratic leader defends push to abolish presidential term limits; Rebukes fears of 'Bush for life'


Steve Bagley

The Democrats’ number two in the House, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has defended a push to end presidential term limits, and told RAW STORY that concern in the blogosphere that his proposal could mean “Bush for life” is baseless.

Hoyer has introduced an amendment to the Constitution which would repeal the 22nd Amendment, which states that the president is able to serve no more than two full terms. He has submitted a similar amendment every Congressional session since 1985.


The amendment, created after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four-term record, was intended to prevent an incumbency as long as that of Roosevelt from occurring again. The fear at the time was that an unlimited number of terms could upset the government’s separation of powers in favor of the President, leading, in a worst-case scenario, to the elimination of the election process altogether.

The rationale for a limit is that a President could take on the position of a benevolent dictator, or a King, which went against the philosophy of the US’s very first leader, George Washington.

It was Thomas Jefferson who established the convention of the two-term limit, noting that "if some termination to the services of the chief Magistrate be not fixed by the Constitution, or supplied by practice, his office, nominally four years, will in fact become for life."

The first recognized U.S. leader, George Washington, created the title “President” to further distance himself from England’s monarchy.

Today, critics of the amendment, like Mr. Hoyer, see it as a limit of popular choice and control over the course of the government.

In a statement to RAW STORY, Hoyer explained why he believes “the time has come” to repeal term limits—and says the American people need it now more than ever.

By repealing term limits, he says, Americans “would have restored to themselves and future generations an essential democratic privilege to elect who they chose in the future.”

Bush could run again in future

Responding to fears that repealing term limits would mean “Bush for life,” Hoyer said his proposal couldn’t be approved in time for the 2008 election.

But the Whip later clarified his comments, acknowledging that under the proposal Bush would be eligible to run in the future should it be approved by the states.

“Due to the historical length of time it takes for an amendment to pass the Congress and be ratified by the states, President Bush would no longer be in office when the repeal took effect. Therefore he would not be eligible to run for concurrent terms.” But he would be able to run again in the future, “just as President Clinton and other former Presidents would be eligible.”

The Maryland Democrat insists that before the 22nd Amendment was put in place, no president other than President Franklin D. Roosevelt served more than two terms because they were following the example of George Washington.

Hoyer believes Americans chose Roosevelt because they desired trusted and effective leadership. The amendment, he says, “reflects a fundamental distrust in the judgment of the American people. However, trust of the good sense of the people is one of the cornerstones of democracy.”

The congressman asserts that repealing term limits will ameliorate the problem of ‘lame duck’ second-term presidents.

Voters will not “want a popular chosen president who will be weakened in a second term. The removal of the president from politics as described by the 22nd Amendment has the effect of removing the president from the accountability to political forces that come to bear during regular elections every four years.”

With no arbitrary term limit, a president would then continue to try to appeal to the interests of the people, in order to continue into a third, fourth, or however many subsequent terms. If the people do not approve of a president’s job, they can simply vote not to continue his term. Says Hoyer, “the repeal of the 22nd Amendment would give the American people the power they held for the first 175 years of our nation, to freely choose their leader.”

The other co-sponsors of Hoyer’s amendment are Reps. Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Pallone (D-NJ), Sabo (D-MN) and Berman (D-CA). None of the latter returned calls for comment.

Second Democratic veteran backs move

Speaking to the LA Daily News earlier this month, Rep. Berman (D-CA), echoed Hoyer’s language.

“Our country,” Berman said, “was better off because Franklin Delano Roosevelt was able to run for a fourth term. Imposing an arbitrary term limit makes no sense.

“If we can’t beat ‘em on the third try,” he added, “then we don’t deserve it.”

Hoyer, meanwhile, sees Congress as an additional check on the president, in any term.

If the term-limit rule was repealed, he says, “sufficient power resides in the Congress and the judiciary to protect our country from tyranny.”

In the case of the current incumbent—President Bush—Hoyer believes that “Congress has not acted as a sufficient check on this Administration […] Democrats in Congress intend to bring this failure of the Republican Congress to the American people’s attention repeatedly over the next 18 months.”

Originally published on Tuesday July 5, 2005.


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