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'Hastert Rule' Takes Body Blows With Sandy, Cliff Votes

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Boehner has generally operated under a policy of bringing bills to the floor only if a majority of his conference can support it, but that may no longer be possible.

The point is sure to come up this week as House Republicans meet in Williamsburg, Va., for their annual retreat. Still, even some Republicans who did not vote for Boehner during the failed attempt to mount a coup against his leadership earlier this month were thinking positive ahead of the retreat.

“I think he can hold the conference,” said Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho, one of the Boehner detractors. “As Boehner said, he’s going to work with the conference to make sure we can get the most conservative bills out of the House, and I trust that he will do that.”

Similar battles are on the horizon. The debt ceiling, the sequester and a continuing resolution must be dealt with in the next three months, and it remains to be seen if Boehner can out-maneuver Democrats in a way that will allow him to carry most of his conference.

Furthermore, Senate Democrats have pledged to bring up gun control legislation this month and an immigration overhaul soon after, and Obama is looking to re-create the circumstances that allowed him a Democrat-friendly fiscal cliff deal.

House Democrats, for their part, are cheering the weakened position Boehner has found himself in. Rules ranking member Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y., pointed to the near-Democratic unity on the Sandy votes and the fact that Republicans did not allow some potentially killer amendments on the bills as proof positive that House Democrats are empowered in the 113th Congress.

“I’m not sure they can pass anything without us. I love it. That means we can negotiate for a change,” she said.

Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado, on the other hand, said it’s too early to say how powerful the minority will be, but the fiscal cliff bill showed that it might take Democrats to get legislation past the president.

“I think actually the fiscal cliff experience has taught the Republican leadership that if they really want to pass sane legislation, they are going to have to work with us,” she said. “And we are eager to work with that.”

DeGette said that’s particularly true of bills such as appropriations, which have to get done to keep the government operating, and noted the Sandy bill as another example.

She’s also hopeful that Democrats will be able to convince the GOP to allow some of the president’s other proposals to move, including gun legislation.

“I think we can get the magazine part done,” she said, referring to high-capacity ammunition magazines. “Take a look at the polling.”

While Boehner’s inability to control his conference undoubtedly gives Pelosi more leverage than expected, there are still limits to her power.

In the fiscal cliff talks, for instance, she played a bigger role than she had in any of the other fiscal negotiations in the 112th Congress. But her power was still relatively modest, with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Obama and Reid taking the lead.

Specifically, Pelosi fought to keep Obama from putting a change to the Medicare eligibility age on the table, and Obama went over the details of the deal with Pelosi after it was agreed to but before it had been announced.

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