U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman says we need term limits, but not for members of Congress.


No, Wyoming’s GOP freshman lawmaker has identified another group she said must have its power held in check: federal employees.

Hageman didn’t say the words “deep state” when she recently proposed limiting the number of years someone can work for a particular federal agency and their total years of federal employment.

It’s clear, though, that she’s embraced one of the far right’s favorite conspiracy theories: A cadre of career employees inside the federal government are working together to secretly manipulate government policy and undermine elected leaders.

“Is Washington, D.C., broken? Absolutely, and the odds are stacked against the American people in a government which has grown too powerful and big to control, and instead, it now controls us,” Hageman said at a congressional hearing last month. “But it controls us because of the unelected bureaucrats, not because of your elected officials here in Washington, D.C.”

Hageman, a Cheyenne attorney hand-picked by former President Donald Trump last year to challenge his nemesis — Liz Cheney — won the seat in a landslide. 

Hageman was a logical choice by Trump, who complained about the federal bureaucracy undermining his agenda even before he stepped foot inside the Oval Office. She established her reputation years earlier as a fed-bashing, hard-nosed litigator by winning lawsuits against environmental protection regulations imposed and enforced by federal agencies.

While the deep state isn’t real, Trump has made dismantling it one of the cornerstones of his 2024 presidential campaign. He vowed to reinstate an executive order from the waning days of his administration that stripped job protections for about 50,000 federal workers, who would be reclassified as at-will, contract employees subject to firing by the president. President Joe Biden rescinded that order, replacing it with one to protect workers. 

Hageman’s proposal uses a different tactic than Trump’s that may seem less onerous than the former president’s direct war against the imagined deep state, but it would actually hit the nation’s 2.2 million person civil workforce harder. Depending on the number of years her bill would ultimately limit government employment, up to a quarter of the workers could be pushed out no matter how effectively they do their jobs.

Hageman’s idea isn’t new. It was part of U.S. Sen. Rick Scott’s “Rescue America” plan to reshape government under GOP leadership in the 2022 mid-term election. Immediately dismissed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), it never gained any traction.

The Florida senator proposed setting 12-year term limits on all government bureaucrats, removing “the permanent ruling class in Washington [that] is bankrupting us with inflation and debt.”

The big difference between Scott’s and Hageman’s plans was that he wanted to put the same limits on Congress. Hageman is having none of that.

“Lawmakers are accountable to the American people through elections,” Hageman said. “We have people that have been in some of these agencies for 25, 30 years. You bring in a legislator, it’s pretty difficult to compete with that, especially if you term-limit us.”

I find it hard to believe Hageman would shrink at the thought of challenging any low-level bureaucrat.

Former President Donald Trump embraces Wyoming Harriet Hageman at a “Save America” rally in Casper May 28, 2022. (Natalie Behring)

If you haven’t noticed, Hageman routinely takes on the big guns of the Biden administration and isn’t intimidated. She insulted Homeland Security Director Alejandro Mayorkas to his face, calling him “the walking, talking epitome of the very tyrant that our Founding Fathers recognized would gravitate toward government service.”

“This Congress needs to unify and hold accountable those officials who spend their entire lives in D.C. without taking a single vote, yet impose trillions of dollars of hidden taxes against us,” Hageman said.

What about term limits for officials like herself, who approve the federal budget, confirm officials, establish taxes and make our laws? “I think they are a bad idea in terms of the future of our republic,” she said. Of course she does.

But Hageman will have a problem getting her idea to purge the deep state off the ground. Because even in Wyoming — which on one hand despises the federal government, while eagerly grabbing hundreds of millions in federal funds with the other — voters who distrust the federal government have no problem lumping Congress and bureaucrats together as root causes of why the country is a mess. In Wyoming, add anyone in the White House not named Trump.

Hageman said when there’s a Democratic president, many federal employees actively try to carry out the administration’s agenda. But the bureaucracy supposedly tries to obstruct whatever a Republican in the White House wants. The congresswoman said she has proof that’s what happens, but offered no examples.

But journalist David Rothkopf, author of “American Resistance: The Inside Story of How the Deep State Saved the Nation,” told NPR Americans should be proud of veteran civil employees. He said his book is an homage to those who had the integrity during Trump’s single term to stand up against things they felt “were immoral or unconstitutional or illegal.”

“The range of crazy ideas Trump had — you know, he just didn’t want a wall [on the Mexican border], he wanted a moat,” the author said. “He didn’t just want a moat, he wanted a moat filled with alligators. He didn’t just want to dissuade people with a wall and a moat; he wanted to be able to shoot people as they approached the border.

“When he was told he couldn’t shoot to kill, he said, ‘Well, can you just shoot them in the leg?’” Rothkopf added.

Politically, positing that the federal civilian workforce should limit how long employees can work for an agency likely won’t affect Hageman much. Only 5,829 federal workers live in Wyoming, and even if all their relatives and friends stick up for them, it’s far too few to put Hageman’s seat in jeopardy.

Hageman complains unelected bureaucrats can serve in government for decades. But so can members of Congress: seven have been in office more than four decades, led by 90-year-old Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) with 48 years.

In Wyoming, the power of congressional incumbency is real, and allows officials to raise an extraordinary amount of campaign funds. True, that didn’t help Liz Cheney, but when an Equality State politician goes to Washington, D.C., it’s generally tantamount to serving as long as one wishes.

That will give Hageman the opportunity to rail against the deep state for many years, though it probably won’t increase her popularity if she refuses to back congressional term limits.

Republican presidential candidates Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis have packed a punch when they offered their separate deep state remedies.

Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur, promised to shut down the “unconstitutional” federal administrative state. “That is the head of the snake,” he said at a California campaign stop Saturday. “And we’re not going to tinker around the edges — we’re going to gut it.”

DeSantis was even more direct. “We’re going to have all these deep state people, you know, we’re going to start slitting throats on day one and be ready to go,” he said.

While calls for violence have so far been absent from Hageman’s rhetorical attack on the federal bureaucracy, she’ll apparently need to take it there if she wants to be a national bulldog on this issue. 

I just hope that her ploy to stoke fear about the deep state — just to solidify her political power — doesn’t put federal employees in harm’s way.

Correction: This story was updated to correct Sen. Grassley’s political party affiliation. —Ed.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Why do we not provide training and compensation for our civil services in a manner similar to our armed forces? I personally do not believe that elected representatives to Congress should ever feel entitled to receive salaries and benefits in excess of that which they have allocated to provide to those who serve this country by laying down their lives. If we were to hold them to even this simple standard, and deny them the perks that they have become accustomed to, imposing term limits would be unnecessary. The novelty of the job would wear thin pretty quickly.

  2. Democracy is like a distributed control system and is anathema to the authoritarian groupies like Hageman and the rest of them. As far as I can see an underlying goal of Republicans has been institutional destruction for the past few decades. Hageman is just putting it in writing. Listen to what they are saying through their big orange mouthpiece – courts, press, bureaucrats, government departments, allies, international treaties, social justice, unions, personal liberty, elections, and on and on. They are all bad.

  3. Nobody should sit in Congress unless they can pass a middle-school civics exam.

    Hageman is clearly unqualified.

  4. Term limits for Congress is what’s needed. That would also crimp the deep state as well. Plus ban all and any trading of any kind by congress. Assets could be frozen while they “serve” their terms

  5. A professional bureaucratic workforce of people willing to do their jobs with experience and expertise is, in fact, one of the few things separating a functioning democracy from dictatorships and banana republics. As an elected member of congress, surely Ms. Hageman knows that “bureaucrats” cannot impose “trillions of dollars of taxes” – that’s her job. Ignorance, purposeful or otherwise, is not a highly desired trait in elected officials.

  6. This OP-ED piece echoes my own misgivings about Wyoming’s lone representative. Her monthly newsletter shows a person with no apparent sense of kindness, humor, or humility. My late husband was one of those federal workers she rails about, who performed his job very well for 40 years. Her plan would eliminate all federal retirements, though, except for congress.

    History is enlightening on the subject of the civil service, easily found with a brief search. Briefly, we started out with the president choosing the best available people to serve. That lasted about 40 years before jobs started being given out as prizes to loyalists. Corruption was rife for over a century before the people demanded change. In other words, Hageman’s idea has been tried, and was a failure.

  7. Crazy Harriet knows that if we get rid of the governmental professionals then the lobbyists will have more expertise than the government and that they will be able to get anything they want. She wants to limit the people’s representatives but not the representatives of big corporations and powerful interest groups and lobbies. No tem limits for lobbyists, huh, Harriet? Putin must be laughing hilariously to realize that the people of Wyoming unwittingly elected someone who shares his hatred of the American government.

    1. She is talking about civil service on a different level. The GS-12 park ranger is not the same as any of the SES level in DC in areas like DoJ etc. Drake’s claim that it is an attack on civil service is baseless.

  8. Drake shamelessly writes about what he calls “… the far right’s favorite conspiracy theories: A cadre of career employees inside the federal government are working together to secretly manipulate government policy and undermine elected leaders.”

    He manages to work in “conspiracy theory” and “far right” and “secretly manipulate” into one sentence of classic manipulative Agenda Journalism. But not a word of it is even remotely related to reality.

    There is no “conspiracy theory” but observable fact. The real concern is that increasingly bloated federal agencies have assumed legislative powers, enacting “rules” and “regulations” which have the power of actual law, but without the participation or even oversight of Congress. These agencies are run by unelected political appointees and this bureaucratic state has become a de facto fourth branch of government. It is not “secretly manipulating government policy” but doing so overtly, publicly. A perfect example is the recent BLM effort to shut down extractive industry and much of the grazing in five Wyoming counties, an effort covered by real journalists at this newspaper.

    Another is the expansion of not just the size of these agencies but their scope, as they veer away from their original charters to assume greater and wider authority. The charter of the Forest Service, for example, contains no mandate or authority to advocate for political agendas. National Forests were created to provide an ongoing source of lumber for the nation, yet due to pressures from one end of the political spectrum the Service has blocked logging, both directly and by implementing roadless areas. This anti-logging political agenda has led to the destruction of millions of acres of valuable timber as the Service refused to allow logging to remove beetle-infested trees, not just violating its own charter, not just acting in the interests of a political agenda, not just costing the nation millions if not billions of dollars in lost resources, but creating a massive fire hazard we have seen result in fires destroying lives and property and more pollution than any amount of logging might have generated. This kind of “mission creep” is what happens when an agency is not restrained by its own charter and when its administration is allowed to impose its political agenda.

    Every federal agency has similar problems, exacerbated by Civil Service laws that make it nearly impossible to remove workers for poor performance. The assumption of legislative powers is only one reason for wanting to reduce the size and scope of federal agencies to their original charters and productive staffing.

    It is odd to see an effort to return our government to its original model of legislation only by elected officials not just dismissed but blatantly misrepresented as something nefarious. I suggest that it indicates a broader political perspective.

    As for efforts within the government to undermine and even sabotage the new Trump administration, Mr. Drake seems to think we have forgotten about the #RESIST movement, in which people in the government and even the military openly bragged about efforts to interfere with the efforts of the administration.

    The people have the ability to remove politicians we don’t want to remain in office. The fact that Ms. Hageman is in Congress in the first place is proof that the people of Wyoming understand this power and use it when they want a change. We don’t have that ability when it comes to dealing with federal employees who are using their positions to advance political agendas. Trying to compare the two is simply foolish.

    1. Unfortunately, Jules has given us a direct example of a theory without any identifiable evidence contending that Trump failed because someone else stopped him. Mr. Hill gives us an actual and extensive conspiracy theory without any identifiable or refutable evidence. The only example he gives is based on statements from the very industries he said were “illegally restricted,” without indicating that those restrictions were literally in the statutes governing the BLM. The BLM does answer to Congress based on those laws. (Note that Mr. Trump is now charged with violating 93 actual Congressional laws. BLM is not charged with violating any laws.)

      (That method of presenting a claim is defined as a “conspiracy theory.”)

      The real truth is that Trump is incompetent. He went in the job while being ignorant of what is actually in the US Constitution and without knowing how how to govern any political institution. His incompetence in management is evidenced by his six bankruptcies. I suspect that Mr. Hill cannot refute my evidence.

    2. And so you are saying that the “Deep State” actually exists? You mention the BLM. Their job by law is to MANAGE our land for all. That means that the land has more value than just commodities (wood, fossil fuel, minerals). How many years of work experience in the BLM or other federal agency do you have? How many current fossil fuel leases are available in Wyoming?

      From BLM:

      BLM Wyoming is number one in federal onshore gas production and number two in federal onshore oil production. In fiscal year 2017, over 1.04 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 38.7 million barrels of oil, were produced from 13,095 leases (covering 8.4 million acres) managed by BLM Wyoming.

      BLM Wyoming regularly holds four lease sales per year, offering parcels in Wyoming and Nebraska, when applicable.

      Also from BLM, https://www.blm.gov/press-release/blm-announces-oil-and-gas-lease-sale-wyoming

      “Sep 19, 2023
      Cheyenne, Wyo. – The Bureau of Land Management Wyoming State Office today announced an oil and gas lease sale scheduled for Nov. 28, 2023, to offer 47 oil and gas parcels totaling 46,250.57 acres in Wyoming.”

      I wish you would check facts before writing.

  9. As a newcomer to Wyoming — moved here in 1987 — I find it unfortunate how much the state GOP has changed. Had the pleasure of attending a dinner for Al Simpson and Craig Thomas back in the day, and had no problem discussing the issues, even though I’m a Democratic.
    Now we’re sending the Hagemans out as our representatives. Downright embarrassing.

    1. You only know what hacks like Drake tell you, which is probably not true. The GOP has turned more populist. She replaced Dick Cheney’s daughter that came to Wyoming with a carpet bag full of California and MIC money. The GWB wing of the GOP, and the worst the GOP has to offer.
      BLM isn’t part of the deep state. That is mostly SES level DoJ/intel types. Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the deep state and the military-industrial complex.

      1. Thanks for the input, Gary. Myself, I don’t worry much about “deep states”. I worry more about populists who worry about deep states.

        What I do know about Hageman is that she happily ran on the lie of a stolen election, and that as an attorney, she knows that no court case brought by “populists” to demonstrate election irregularities had any substance. And Wyoming populists were happy to elect her. None of this inspires confidence in Hageman’s opinions on big governments out to control our lives.

  10. This woman sickens me. The fact that she cannot support term limits for elected officials is just one more strike against her. She is a member of the GOP that supports ripping apart our government, with no apparent plan in place. Let the chips fall and bring in total chaos. What a moron, just like all of the rest of the Cheeto cult spineless republican party.

    1. The phrase “term limits” is too broad to even discuss without some clarification. What limits, specifically?

      When we look at the complexity of the rules and regulations in Congress it’s obvious that new members will need time to learn the ins and outs. Every now and then I hear of some proposed bill being shut down due to some complicated rule. So I, for one, don’t want Congress cluttered with a lot of newbies who don’t know the rules and are just learning how to be effective just as they are arbitrarily tossed out.

      So when I hear calls for “Term Limits” I need to know how much thought has been given to how long these people think our elected officials should be allowed to represent the people who elected them in the first place. It seems logical to start with an assessment of how long it would take to learn the rules and strategies of the legislative process we have today. Maybe we should start there, learning what our representatives have to learn and streamlining that process.

      Is there a difference between an experience member of Congress and one who has been there too long? What is that difference? Who gets to decide?

      But then I admit to being one of those people who makes political decisions based on my analysis of the best blueprint for governing the country, not just on some emotional basis of visceral dislike that has nothing to do with actual governance. I admit to being somewhat surprised and disappointed to see this kind of commentary here.

      1. Hageman’s term limit rules applying to Federal Employees comes from Rick Scott’s Rescue America plan (referenced with a internet link in the Drew’s excellent article) that proposed Federal employees be limited to 12 years service in a specific agency. Rick also suggested a 12-year-limit for Representatives and Senators. The article being discussed told us that, so I am disappointed by your claim of your own disappointment. All of us are actually discussing Drake’s article.

  11. A majority of the American people want term limits in Congress. Put it to the people for a vote, along with insider trading rules and abolishing lobbying and citizens united.

    1. Hageman and maga republicans are the Swamp. Their intent is to suck the life out of America to some unknown purpose beyond what the US Constitution provides. It comes down to their desire for money and power for themselves and their financial supporters. Working class and the poor who support them don’t realize they themselves are not included in the intended final result.