Dewonkify – Hastert Rule

Term: Hastert Rule

Definition: An informal governing principle used by Republican Speakers of the House of Representatives since the 1990s to only allow bills to come up for a vote on the House floor that have support from the “the majority of the majority” of Members of Congress. In practice, if Speaker Boehner follows the Hastert Rule it would mean that he would not bring legislation for a vote unless it would have the support of the majority of the current House majority party, the Republicans.

Used In a Sentence:  “That’s what the Hastert rule is really about, Feehery, now a lobbyist and consultant, told me recently — political survival. It’s just common sense: The speaker is elected by a majority vote of his caucus; if he does things a majority of his caucus doesn’t like, they can vote him out.” From “Even the Aide Who Coined the Hastert Rule Says the Hastert Rule Isn’t Working,” by Molly Ball, The Atlantic, July 21, 2013

History: According to John Feehery, the staffer who coined the phrase, former Speaker Dennis Hastert is often credited with inventing the rule but Newt Gingrich, who preceded him as Speaker, followed it as well.

Why It’s Relevant: Following the Hastert Rule makes it is very difficult to have legislative successes if the majority caucus is divided. Speaker Boehner has invoked the Hastert Rule during the recent fiscal debates leading up to the current government shutdown.  Some suggest that the House of Representatives could pass clean (no added legislative language or provisions) legislation to reopen the government or raise the debt ceiling because most of the Democrats and 20 or so of the Republicans would vote for it, giving it enough votes to pass.  However, bringing that legislation up would violate the Hastert Rule since at this point it would not have the support of the majority of the Republicans (the majority party).

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