While the leadership styles of Speakers Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) never have had much in common, the difference in their governing philosophies could not have been more stark than when Pelosi offered her take on Hastert’s “majority of the majority” rule Friday.
“I’m the Speaker of the House,” Pelosi told reporters. “I have to take into consideration something broader than the majority of the majority in the Democratic Caucus.”
That clearly was the case Thursday, when the House approved an Iraq War supplemental bill with more than twice as many supporters from the minority as from the majority — in the 280-142 final passage vote, 194 Republicans voted for the bill versus 86 Democrats.
While sources on both sides of the aisle cautioned that the war has presented its own unique circumstances, Pelosi so far has displayed a willingness that has trickled down in the ranks to count on the minority party to aid passage of some of the big-ticket items on the Congressional agenda this year, not just on Iraq but also on issues such as trade and immigration.
“There are a lot of issues that cross party lines,” said George Crawford, Pelosi’s former chief of staff who is now a lobbyist at King & Spalding. “On the larger issue of the ‘majority of the majority,’ she has talked about that for a quite a while. She does want the minority party to engage in the legislative process and I think you see [Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.)] and a lot of other chairmen working with the minority party. That’s the kind of Speakership she wants.”
So far, Pelosi’s attitude toward moving legislation is in direct contrast to how Hastert did business.
“On occasion, a particular issue might excite a majority made up mostly of the minority,” Hastert famously told a November 2003 Capitol Hill audience in a speech outlining his principles for the office. “The job of Speaker is not to expedite legislation that runs counter to the wishes of the majority of his majority.”
The majority of the majority litmus test became informally known as the Hastert Rule in the House, and under Hastert and then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Republican leaders rarely brought bills to the floor that could not meet that standard. The rule also delayed or postponed floor action on bills that could have passed with significant Democratic support, such as measures on stem-cell research and immigration reform in 2006.
For most of his tenure, Hastert benefited from having President Bush in the White House, allowing him to move legislation that catered more to the party’s base. Leadership most often relied on their rank and file to reach 218 — the number of votes needed to pass a bill against generally strong Democratic opposition.
A former Hastert aide argued that the majority rule worked most of the time and said the reverse eventually could cause trouble for Pelosi, who has held the gavel for only five months.