President Reagan privately told a group of state legislators this week that as a matter of principle he believes the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution -- barring a president from serving more than two terms -- should be repealed, according to a participant in the session.
Reagan stressed that he had no personal interest in seeking a third four-year term, the participant said.
Reagan's private remark, at a meeting at the Tampa airport Thursday, followed a public speech in which he said last year's reelection campaign was the final one of his political career. But the participant in the private meeting said Reagan indicated that he was feeling "handicapped" by descriptions of his presidency as "lame duck."
The president said he thought it was "ridiculous" that a president be limited to two terms if the American people wanted him to serve longer, and he cited Franklin D. Roosevelt's four terms as an example, according to the participant, who said Reagan was speaking in a serious vein.
Reagan's comments were made in a brief closed session in Tampa with about a dozen members of a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, described by the White House as conservative legislators. Presidential spokesman Larry Speakes had said all but one of those meeting with Reagan were Republicans.
The participant in the meeting who recounted Reagan's remarks asked not to be identified. Reagan also discussed the balanced-budget constitutional amendment, his tax revision plan and the upcoming summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Speakes had told reporters that day. Speakes had not mentioned the remarks on the 22nd Amendment.
The meeting was closed to reporters.
In his speech to senior citizens Thursday, Reagan said that "last fall I fought the last election of my political life."
Reagan said that as a result "for the rest of my time in this high office there can be no doubt that all decisions will be guided by a single question: What is best for America?"
The 22nd Amendment, proposed by Congress on March 24, 1947, and ratified by the states March 29, 1951, states in part:
"No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once."
The constitutional amendment was the subject of sharp controvery in the first session of the 80th Congress.
At the time, there were two proposals, one to limit the president to a single six-year term, the other to limit a president to two four-year terms. The latter was voted in 1947 and Congress at the same time passed legislation, in response to a request from President Harry S Truman, defining the procedure for presidential succession.
Reagan, who was also barred from seeking a third term when he was governor of California, has been going though a series of difficult battles with Congress, and one person familiar with his thinking said yesterday that Reagan is determined not to be counted out as a "lame duck."
In the years since the two-term limit became law, widespread discussion of the difficulties of maintaining presidential power the last four years invariably arises soon after a president is reelected.
In President Dwight D. Eisenhower's case, he was asked at a 1957 news conference whether troubles with Congress meant that his leadership was being "impaired" by his lame-duck status. Eisenhower responded, "I have not noticed any effect of the so-called lame duck. Maybe later in the term that might be noticeable. To me, it is not now."
Later, he added, "I don't believe the two-term thing is the decisive factor here."
President Kennedy, asked in 1962 whether he would repeat his vote as a congressman for the two-term limitation, responded, "Yes I would. I would. I know the conditions were special in '47, but I think eight years is enough, and I am not sure that a president, in my case if I were reelected, that you are at such a disadvantage."
Kennedy said, "there are many powers of the presidency that run in the second term as well as the first."
President Carter suggested in January 1980 at a time when he was being challenged by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) for the party's presidential nomination that he favored presidents serving a single six-year term. Carter said it was an "extra burden" to run a sustained political campaign and govern the nation at the same time.
"But it's part of our political system, which I certainly don't want to change," he said. "I would personally favor a single six-year term. I don't see any great pressure on the Congress or the American people to make the change, but I think it would be better . . . . It's not a critical need in our nation, but it certainly would be better for me right now."