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EXCLUSIVE: The youngest member of Congress Tuesday launched what he hopes will be a nationwide campaign to impose term limits on members of the House and Senate, saying it’s time to “drain the swamp” in Washington.
Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., told Fox News Digital in an exclusive interview Tuesday that he’s introducing legislation to limit the time in office to six terms for House members and two terms for senators — for a total of 12 years each.
Cawthorn, 26, said 12 years is a “reasonable amount of time” to learn the ropes, gain allies and make an impact.
“If you’re not able to accomplish your goals in over a decade, I really don’t want you to represent me anyway,” he told Fox News Digital.
Imposing term limits on Congress is a heavy lift, since it takes a constitutional amendment. Cawthorn’s legislation would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in the House and in the Senate. It then has to be ratified by three-fourths of the states, or 38 states.
The freshman lawmaker acknowledges his legislation has little hope of passage this year, but he plans to use the bill to launch a “term-limits tour” around the country to gin up support for the measure in state capitals and make it a priority for fellow Republicans should they retake Congress next year.
He also will use the legislation as an endorsement tool for the 2022 midterms, with candidates having to pledge they’ll back the bill when it comes up for a vote.
“I really want to drain the swamp,” said Cawthorn, railing against politicians who have been in office for decades and noting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 81, has “been serving for longer than I’ve been alive.”
“I think the American people deserve a class of elected officials that aren’t entrenched in Washington, D.C. because once you’ve been here for over 12 years, you stop to repel the swamp, and I think you kind of start to morph into it.”
After only a year in office, Cawthorn said he’s learned that special interests wield influence by compiling personal dirt on members, giving examples of closet homosexuality or drug addiction and then threatening to expose their secrets.
“The main currency here in Washington is really secrets about people or dirt that you can get on other personnel,” Cawthorn said, making an analogy to the Netflix show “House of Cards.”
“Once people have been in Washington for so long, they have these opportunities to become really corrupt, and they have these opportunities to have people gain leverage over them.”
Imposing congressional term limits has historically been popular with the public. But it’s been challenging to pass in Congress because the system is designed around seniority. The longer someone is in office, the more power a member gains through leadership positions, committee assignments and the ability to get things done for their constituents.
Cawthorn’s legislation would not impose term limits on current members, but only future new members.
Opponents also say imposing term limits erases important institutional knowledge and puts more power in the hands of lobbyists with the know-how on special issues.
Years ago, President Biden voted against advancing term limit legislation in the Senate that was part of the 1994 GOP campaign platform, Contract with America. He argued that members already have term limits in the form of elections.
“If they do not like you, they throw you out,” he said in 1995, according to congressional records. “It may seem to some a novel concept, but it’s known as the power of the ballot box, and it is the ultimate limit on congressional terms.”
Other Republicans have backed congressional term limits. GOP Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Ted Cruz of Texas introduced term limit bills just last year.
In the House, GOP Reps. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, William Timmons of South Carolina, Kevin Hern of Oklahoma and Ralph Norman of South Carolina have all introduced term limits bills.
Norman’s legislation calls for no more than six years in the House and 12 years in the Senate. His bill has garnered 77 GOP co-sponsors and one Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine.