Hastert’s predecessor, Newt Gingrich, added that he had relied on the same principle, which he’d learned from his predecessors, all Democrats: Tom Foley, Jim Wright, and Tip O’Neill. “If you can’t get a majority of your members to vote yes, then a pretty prudent speaker doesn’t bring it up.”
But prudence, like beauty, exists in the eye of the beholder. If all Boehner cared about was his own political future, he might adhere to the Hastert Rule faithfully. The speaker is chosen by a simple vote of his party’s members, literally “a majority of the majority.” But what if that majority wants to lead itself over a cliff? That was the calculation Boehner made when he let the full House vote on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. A majority of his members had quibbles with the bill, but the GOP leadership was more interested in neutralizing the Democrats’ “war on women” trope in an election year.
Boehner also dispensed with the Hastert Rule on other occasions: to raise the debt ceiling, keep the government running, and emergency disaster relief…
Nobody is seriously saying the Hastert Rule is unconstitutional. But it is ahistorical and, at this point in U.S. political history, often unrepresentative. Instead of being the “people’s House,” it’s a special-interest-group-controlled fiefdom run autocratically by whichever of the two polarized parties happens to hold the reins. And in the case of immigration reform, it’s natural for Obama to feel that Congress is thwarting elective democracy instead of promoting it.