The "Hastert Rule" is back in the spotlight again, this time in reference to the call from President Obama to seek the approval of Congress for the use of a limited military strike on Syria.
And House Speaker John Boehner has cited that same rule in relation to any immigration reform bill. I have been asked again recently by a few readers to explain what this rule means.
The "Hastert Rule," is best described as an informal guideline devised by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), the longest-serving Republican Speaker of the House. In 2003 Hastert pledged not to allow votes on bills that didn't have the support of "the majority of the majority," meaning more than half of the Republican members of Congress. Democrats, at that time led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi decried the move as an overly partisan attempt to marginalize their influence.
In this Congress, Boehner's violations of the Hastert Rule have angered conservatives who see themselves as the ones marginalized by his ability to get around their demands. Under pressure, Boehner has repeatedly reassured them that he won't break the rule again when it comes to immigration reform. A bill similar to that which passed the Senate, would likely pass the House if it came to a floor vote, with a majority of Democrats and a minority of Republicans in support.
However, Boehner has made clear he won't allow that to happen.
When the Hastert Rule was first used, his spokesman John Feehery defended it to the Washington Post. "If you pass major bills without the majority of the majority, then you tend not to be a long-term Speaker," That's what the Hastert Rule is really all about, political survival. The Speaker is elected by a majority vote of his party; if he does things a majority of his party doesn't like, they can vote him out.
Feehery who, actually wrote the speech in which Hastert laid out the rule that bears his name and who coined the phrase "majority of the majority" now thinks Boehner ought to ditch the Hastert Rule.
In a recent interview Feehery, was quoted as saying: "Given the current 'ungovernable' state of the House Republicans, Boehner must balance the risk to his own standing with the 'larger reputational risk' to the Republican Party of things like, say, blocking the Violence Against Women Act which would have happened had Boehner not violated the Hastert Rule to get it through with the votes of just 38 percent of his party."
I agree with Mr. Feehery it is time to get rid of the Hastert Rule and get down to the real work of consensus building, passing legislation for the good of the Country as a whole.