An insurgent group of House Republicans is pushing to codify the "Hastert rule" to only allow bills with majority GOP support to come to the floor.
It’s not likely the full Republican Conference would back a formal rule, which would tie the hands of Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio as he tries to get immigration legislation and debt and budget deals through the House later this year.
But with an immigration rewrite looming and Boehner unwilling to guarantee that he’ll follow the Hastert rule, some of the more conservative House Republicans are nervous a compromise will be brought to the floor that falls short of their priorities — such as provisions to guarantee border security — and includes components many dislike, including a pathway to citizenship that some blast as a form of “amnesty.”
“Normally, the Hastert Rule is not that critical of a thing, but in this case, with something so important as immigration, it’s important that you have the people’s will reflected,” Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said. “And the Hastert rule would do a greater job to achieve that.”
Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., is helping to lead the effort, circulating a petition among GOP lawmakers.
"This is an effort led by a growing group of members in our Republican conference that want to ensure we fight for policies that the majority of our conference supports,” he said in a statement. “Codifying the Hastert Rule reinforces our resolve to consider legislation that doesn't grow government and doesn't cede legislative power to the minority party. I believe this will actually strengthen the hands of our Republican leadership by fostering a unified voice among our conference.”
It’s not the first time Salmon has taken on leadership. In 1997, he supported a “coup” attempt against then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and pushed him to quit after the 1998 elections.
The effort comes after a dozen leaders of conservative outside groups, including the heads of the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, sent a letter to Republican members asking them to codify the informal rule embraced by then-Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who served in the role from 1999 to 2007.
“We are writing you today to encourage you to boldly use your majority not only to present a positive conservative vision, but also as the last backstop against the worst excesses of liberalism and Washington deal-making,” they wrote. “Liberal Democrats control the White House and the Senate. We should not help their cause by handing them the keys to the House as well.”
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., confirmed to CQ Roll Call that a group of members is working to collect signatures to officially petition the conference to consider changing its rules to require leaders to only put bills on the floor that can pass with the majority of GOP members voting in the affirmative.
According to the conference’s rules, any resolution can be taken up by one of the conference's committees if it is backed by at least 25 signatures. In the event the resolution is not acted on by the committee to which the matter was referred “in a timely manner,” a petition of at least 50 signatures can discharge the resolution for full conference consideration.
Amash, a frequent leadership critic, was unsure on Thursday how many signatures the preliminary petition had received, adding that he wasn’t certain yet if members would follow through.
“The question is whether we want to do it as a strategy or not, and there is still discussion about that, but I think most people are on board with it,” he said.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise of Louisiana would not comment on the petition drive specifically, but he did say it was an issue being explored by the conservative working group of the House Republican contingent.
“It’s a conversation that’s been had by a lot of our members,” Scalise said. “Where that goes, I can’t say that now. There are a number of things we are doing to try to achieve that.”
Asked about the Hastert rule at his weekly news conference, Boehner reiterated that his “goal is always to bring bills to the floor that have a strong Republican majority.” He also said on immigration that he didn't intend to bring legislation to the floor that would violate the party's principles.
On Tuesday, however, in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Boehner signaled that he would let the House work its will on immigration. He wouldn’t rule out bringing a bill to the floor that didn't have majority Republican support, although he didn’t think that would be the case.
Riva Litman, spokeswoman for House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, backed Boehner’s “goal” language.
“The chairwoman strongly believes that our goal is always to pass legislation with a strong Republican majority,” she said.
Some GOP members outside leadership circles are also dismissive of the insurgents.
“I don’t think many people are apt to sign on to something like this, and at the end of the day, you trust your leaders or you don’t,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. “You can’t lay out some detailed road map for them to sign off on. You have to give them the flexibility to do the things they think are necessary. If there are any serious problems you can always convene an election to elect new leadership.”