Speaker John Boehner is not committing himself to following the so-called Hastert Rule in the House's upcoming battles over gun control, immigration reform, and dealing with the nation’s long-term debt.
“Listen, it was never a rule to begin with,” the Ohio Republican insisted during a news conference Thursday, though he added, “Certainly my prerogative—my intention—is to always pass bills with strong Republican support.”
Boehner was referring to what has been the informal practice of Republicans when in the House majority of not allowing legislation to hit the floor for a vote unless it is supported by most of the GOP conference—a “majority of the majority.”
The rule is named for former Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
But whether Boehner is, or is not, following that rule—and whether he intends to follow it in the anticipated upcoming legislative battles—has been the source of much confusion this year.
So much so that, this week, two House conservatives who are already worried Boehner may decide to break the “Hastert Rule” for gun-control legislation have been circulating a letter for colleagues to sign seeking to persuade the speaker to abide by the tradition.
“We are writing to express our strong opposition to legislation requiring private sale background checks for firearms purchases,” reads the letter circulated by Senate hopeful Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia and Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas. “Under the precedents and traditions of the House, we would ask that no gun legislation be brought to the floor of the House unless it has the support of a majority of our caucus.”
Such worry comes as Boehner already has broken the rule several times this year, with the New Year’s vote on the fiscal-cliff deal, disaster relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy, and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which all passed with Democratic votes.
After the House passage of VAWA, Boehner sought to assure some fellow Republicans that breaking the rule was not something he expected to continue.
But earlier this week, Boehner again broke the rule. He allowed a suspension vote on a bill to broaden the government’s ability to purchase land to protect historic battlefields. It passed, though 122 Republicans voted against it and just 101 voted in favor.
On Thursday, Boehner seemed to spell out—perhaps once and for all—that he does not necessarily feel obligated to follow the rule.
Boehner sidestepped a direct answer on whether he would commit to bringing a gun-control measure to the House floor—in light of the Senate passage of cloture Thursday on gun-control legislation.
At one point, Boehner said he expects the House will act on some gun legislation in the upcoming months.
But as for whether there will be a floor vote on what the Senate produces, he said only, “I would expect that if the Senate does move a bill that I will send it to the Judiciary Committee for an open hearing and for their deliberation.”
Soon after that, Boehner was pressed about whether he might violate the Hastert Rule to allow floor votes on such gun legislation—or other legislation dealing with immigration reform, or the nation’s debt—that is not supported by a majority of his conference.
That was when Boehner declared that the Hastert Rule, from his view, “was never a rule to begin with.”