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Why Obama is pushing Boehner for a vote: Lynn Sweet

Speaker House John Boehner R- Ohio pauses during news conference after House Republican Conference meeting about ongoing budget fight Capitol

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R- Ohio, pauses during a news conference after a House Republican Conference meeting about the ongoing budget fight on Capitol Hill on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013 in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

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Updated: November 5, 2013 6:40AM



WASHINGTON — Before the shooting outside the Capitol on Thursday, President Barack Obama traveled to a construction company in a Maryland suburb to step up pressure on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to call a vote on a stopgap measure to fund the federal government.

“My simple message today is, call a vote, call a vote,” Obama said.

In putting the squeeze on Boehner, Obama was pushing him to set aside the so-called Hastert Rule, named for former House Speaker Denny Hastert (R-Ill.).

A woman from Connecticut died following a high-speed car chase from near the White House to the Capitol campus. This was a short, dramatic crisis with a beginning, middle and end — unlike the shutdown mess.

The shooting forced Congress to pause for a bit, but nothing more, as the partial federal shutdown heads into its fourth day.

It now will likely drag on for weeks since the debate over re-opening government is now linked with the Oct. 17 deadline to raise the debt ceiling.

Unless, of course, the GOP-controlled House allows an up-or-down vote on “clean” funding legislation. Senate Democrats sent the House a resolution to keep the funding status quo for a few more weeks — referred to as “clean” because it has no strings attached to kill or weaken the Obamacare health-care law.

Boehner is resisting allowing that vote because the measure would get the 218 votes it needs to pass in the House and get sent to Obama to sign.

Here is the math:

At present, there are 232 Republicans and 200 Democrats, with three vacancies. If the House Democrats stick together — and so far they have — they would just have to pick off a handful of House Republicans.

While there are not many moderate Republicans — and they are drowned out by their Tea Party colleagues — there are enough to get to 218.

But if Boehner went that route, he would violate the informal “Hastert Rule,” which calls for any legislation first mustering the support of the majority of the majority. The reality is that any measure with provisions to win the backing of 116 House Republicans will not be supported by House Democrats.

Hastert first outlined what became known as the “Hastert Rule” on Nov. 12, 2003, during a speech in the Cannon House Office Building at a conference on “The Changing Nature of the Speakership,” where he detailed his governing principles.

“My fifth principle is to please the majority of your majority,” Hastert said.

“The job of speaker is not to expedite legislation that runs counter to the wishes of the majority of his majority,” Hastert said.

Hastert further explained, “on each piece of legislation, I actively seek to bring our party together. I do not feel comfortable scheduling any controversial legislation unless I know we have the votes on our side first.”

I talked Thursday with John Feehery, who was Hastert’s communications chief in 2003 and the author of the speech — the man who coined the phrase “the majority of the majority.”

Feehery told me Hastert developed his “majority of the majority” policy as part of the common-sense approach he used to be the longest-serving Republican Speaker in the nation’s history. “A speaker who tends to not please the majority of his majority won’t be the speaker for very long,” Feehery said.

When Hastert was speaker, “he could not trust the Democrats to vote with him on anything, so that is part of the reason why he used that rule. He wanted to make sure he was able to pass things,” Feehery said.

Ron Bonjean, who followed Feehery as Hastert communication chief, said if a speaker passes bills on the strength of votes from the other side of the aisle, “the thought process is you are giving up your ruling authority.”

Boehner has a much tougher challenge than Hastert, a former wrestling coach who was able to foster “much more of a team atmosphere,” Bonjean told me. Boehner has to put up with members who are “in it for their own political posturing.”

FOOTNOTE: In an interview with the Daily Beast posted Thursday, Hastert said the “Hastert Rule” “never really existed” and was spawned during an offhand remark at a 2006 press conference, where he was “speaking generally and philosophically.”

Email: lsweet@suntimes.com

Twitter: @lynnsweet



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