As the 2024 election campaigning commences, fresh concerns over the health and age of multiple public officials, as well as interest in limiting the power of career politicians, have re-fueled calls for federal and state-level term limits.
A glance at the tenure of the 10 longest-serving elected U.S. officials reveals a combined 421 years in office.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), 48 years
Grassley began his congressional career in 1974 after Iowa voters elected him to the House. He was elected to the Senate in 1980, and was just reelected to his eighth term in 2022.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), 46 years
Markey was first elected to the House in a 1976 special election for Massachusetts’ 5th congressional district. He was elected to Senate in 2013.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), 42 years
Wyden was first elected to the House in 1981, following service as a public member of the Oregon State Board of Examiners of Nursing Home Administrators. He has served in the Senate since 1997.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D- N.Y.), 42 years
Schumer has never lost an election. He served in the New York State Assembly from 1975 to 1980, when he successfully launched a bid for the House, where he served from 1981 to 1999. Schumer was elected to the Senate in 1999.
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), 42 years
Rogers first assumed office in 1981, representing Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District, where he has remained. He won reelection again in the 2022 midterm elections.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), 42 years
Smith is currently serving his 21st term in the House, representing New Jersey’s 4th Congressional District. He is a member of the Republican Party, having changed his affiliation from Democrat in 1978.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), 41 years
Hoyer has been serving as a representative for Maryland’s 5th Congressional District since 1981 after winning a special election. Prior to joining congress, he was a member of the Maryland State Senate and the state’s Board for Higher Education.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), 40 years
Durbin served from 1983 to 1997 in the House representing Illinois’ 20th District. He’s currently serving his fifth Senate term, having been elected in 1996.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), 40 years
Kaptur assumed office in 1983 and is the longest serving woman in congressional history. She represents Ohio’s 9th House District.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), 38 years
McConnell assumed office as a senator in 1985. He served as a Deputy U.S. Assistant Attorney General from 1974 to 1975 and as a judge in Kentucky’s Jefferson County from 1977 until 1985.
In January, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) introduced a bill that would impose term limits in the House and Senate. Norman has expressed concern with the limits being too short, noting that it takes a few years for a lawmaker to become “seasoned” with experience.
“If term limits were too short,” he says in a statement on his website, “then unelected stafff would have entirely too much influence and control.” But, he also believes there should be limits in place, stating that public service should “be for a season, not a career.”
He added that the “longer someone serves in this place, the more he/she becomes entrenched and disconnected.”
Vivek Ramaswamy, who has announced his presidential candidacy and is challenging former President Donald Trump for the Republican Party nomination, is backing 8-year term limits for lawmakers as part of his platform.
Others have renewed calls for congressional term limits after two senators were recently hospitalized.
McConnell was admitted to the hospital and treated for a concussion and rib fracture after falling at a dinner event last week. After several days of treatments and observation, the Senate Minority Leader was discharged. He was expected to do a short stint at a rehab facility before going home, according to a statement from his communications director.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), 89, the oldest serving member of the U.S. Senate, was released from the hospital on March 7, after being treated for shingles.
“I want to thank everyone for the well wishes and the hospital staff for providing excellent care,” she wrote in a post on Twitter. “I’m recovering at home now while I continue receiving treatment and look forward to returning to the Senate as soon as possible.”
Not all backers of term limit proposals, however, support the measures out of concern for potential medical issues. Common arguments for term limits are often more about eliminating deeply-rooted power structures and political gridlock that have come to characterize Washington, D.C.
Proponents of term limits argue that they would help to level the playing field in American politics by making it more difficult for entrenched politicians to hold onto their power and influence. Supporters of term limit proposals argue that by forcing lawmakers to rotate in and out of office at regular intervals, the system would become more responsive to the needs and interests of ordinary citizens, rather than the lobbyists and special interest groups that currently wield disproportionate influence inside the Beltway.
Opponents to term limits argue that the U.S. system already has a quasi-term limit feature embedded: elections. The case against term limits maintains that elected officials in the House and Senate must face voters every two or six years to win their approval to remain in office and that the imposition of a term limit law may circumvent the will of voters who would want to re-elect an official to continue their service.
As of November 2022, 16 states had some form of legislative term limits codified.