Beto O’Rourke said that as president he would push for a constitutional amendment to create term limits for senators, representatives, and Supreme Court justices, part of a sweeping voting rights and government reform plan released Wednesday that highlights fault lines in the Democratic field.
As part of the platform, O’Rourke would also restore the ability to vote to felons who have served their sentences and push for a wish list of other Democratic voting rights priorities — including making Election Day a national holiday and using the federal government’s power to fight gerrymandering and voter ID laws.
It would not give voting rights to prisoners currently serving their sentences — an issue that has divided Democratic presidential contenders, with some, like Sen. Bernie Sanders, arguing those rights should never be stripped from citizens. In response to questions about the plan, O’Rourke’s campaign said he would as president sign a bill now stalled in Congress that would restore voting rights in federal elections to formerly incarcerated people.
Any changes to term limits would require a constitutional amendment — a steep task in any political climate. O’Rourke said Wednesday that he would limit members of Congress to serving 12 years and create 18-year Supreme Court terms.
The issue of term limits in Congress has some bipartisan support, but, like voting rights for prisoners, it starkly divides Democrats. Former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Sanders all oppose instituting them for members of Congress. Warren has argued that term limits, like the 12-year terms proposed by O’Rourke, make politicians “dependent on lobbyists,” loosening their loyalties to their constituents.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has also proposed changing the Supreme Court through a constitutional amendment, expanding its size and limiting the terms for some justices.
O’Rourke is among the first Democratic candidates to push for voting rights as a central pillar of a presidential campaign, though House Democrats pushed a voting rights bill similar to much of O’Rourke’s plan as their first piece of legislation early this year.
On the campaign trail, O’Rourke frequently talks about his efforts to increase voter turnout in Texas in 2018, when he narrowly lost the Senate race to Ted Cruz but was widely credited with helping drive turnout, particularly among young people.
O’Rourke’s vision for government reform, which includes a lifetime ban on lobbying for federal elected officials and limits on contributions to PACs and political parties, has many similarities to Warren’s broad anti-corruption proposal, which has become the keynote issue of her presidential campaign.