Members Work in Vain to Repeal Amendment

Posted February 18, 2005 at 6:25pm

In an effort that has become a biennial ritual for a handful of ideologically diverse lawmakers, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) introduced a resolution last week that would restore a president’s ability to serve beyond a second term.

Hoyer has been introducing language to repeal the 22nd Amendment since 1985, and similar efforts have been made by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in almost every Congress for decades.

Indeed, the group of lawmakers who would like to see it repealed would be philosophically mixed on just about any other issue — Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Martin Sabo (D-Minn.) have signed on to Hoyer’s proposal. Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) has introduced a functionally identical resolution this year. Past measures have attracted the support of Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), David Dreier (R-Calif.), Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and others.

The effort may not have any greater chance of succeeding this Congress than it has in the past. Bipartisan though it is, the group’s viewpoint may very well be, and remain, a minority viewpoint. The House Judiciary Committee, which Sensenbrenner chairs, has no plans for a hearing. And nothing has been introduced in the Senate.

As much as constitutional scholar David Kyvig of Northern Illinois University believes the 22nd Amendment “emasculates” second-term presidents by removing the option to run again and retain electoral clout, he also believes partisan politics will likely prevent its repeal.

“There is always the most recent two-term president to energize the opponents to doing away with the limit,” Kyvig said.

But the re-election of President Bush, following Bill Clinton’s two-term presidency, may have changed that dynamic somewhat, as both parties now have a guy to laud and a guy to vilify as an example of why the limit should or should not be repealed.

“Now it can be drained of ideology,” said one House staffer.

It was ideology — more precisely, disagreement with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt over his New Deal reforms — that led to the amendment in the first place. Every Republican in both chambers voted for the measure, and the balance of the two-thirds majority necessary in each body came from Southern Democrats opposed to the New Deal, according to Kyvig’s book on constitutional amendments, “Explicit and Authentic Acts.” Ratification by the states was also accomplished by Republican-dominated legislatures and Democratic-run statehouses in the South where the New Deal was unpopular.

“The people themselves gave no evidence of concern for limiting presidential terms,” Kyvig wrote, adding that lawmakers received almost no correspondence on the subject. A Gallup poll at the time found that the issue did not even register among political concerns, and there was little press coverage.

That’s one thing that the effort to repeal the 22nd Amendment may have in common with the effort to pass and ratify it — nobody seems to care. In the past five years, barely a handful of articles have been written about it.

But the idea may not have to stand on its own. The link has been casual and infrequent, but a couple of news items have tied repealing the 22nd Amendment to amending the Constitution to allow non-natural-born citizens to run for president, at least for political reasons. The storyline has been that Democrats could have a third-term Clinton presidency and Republicans could leverage the popularity of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), a native of Austria. Or the Democrats could counter with a rising, yet foreign-born, star of their own, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, from Canada.

The beginnings of two-part 28th Amendment? It’s anybody’s guess.