The Committee on Rules is amongst the oldest standing committees in the House, having been first formally constituted on April 2, 1789. The Committee is commonly known as “The Speaker’s Committee” because it is the mechanism that the Speaker uses to maintain control of the House Floor, and was chaired by the Speaker until 1910. Because of the vast power wielded by the Rules Committee, its ratio has traditionally been weighted in favor of the majority party, and has been in its “2 to 1 1” (9 majority and 4 minority members) configuration since the late 1970s.
The Rules Committee has two broad categories of jurisdiction: special orders for the consideration of legislation (known as “special rules” or “rules”) and original jurisdiction matters. A special rule provides the terms and conditions of debate on a measure or matter, consideration of which constitutes the bulk of the work of the Rules Committee. The Committee also considers original jurisdiction measures, which commonly represent changes to the standing rules of the House, or measures that contain special rules, such as the expedited procedures in trade legislation.
The Committee has the authority to do virtually anything during the course of consideration of a measure, including deeming it passed. The Committee can also include a self- executed amendment which could rewrite just parts of a bill, or the entire measure. In essence, so long as a majority of the House is willing to vote for a special rule, there is little that the Rules Committee cannot do.
James P. McGovern (D-MA) was elected to the House of Representatives in 1996. He was appointed to the House Rules Committee in 2001, named ranking member in 2017, and became chairman in 2019.
Special Rule Process
The process for reporting a special rule is a mixture of House rules, committee rules, and long-established practice.
- The committee of jurisdiction sends a letter requesting a hearing by the Rules Committee. The letter usually includes a request that a hearing be scheduled, a stipulation of the type of special rule desired, the amount of debate time needed, and any waivers of House rules necessary for consideration of the bill.
- Rules Committee holds a hearing where the witnesses are the Members of the House who sit on the committee of jurisdiction or want to offer amendments.
- Rules Committee marks up a special rule. The Rules Committee, in consultation with the majority leadership and the substantive committee chairmen, determines the type of rule to be granted, including the amount of general debate, the amendment process, and waivers to be granted, if any.
- The special rule is reported and filed. Special rules must be filed from the floor while the House is in session.
- The special rule is considered and debated in the House. After a one-day layover, special rules may be considered on the House floor at any time. A two-thirds vote is necessary to consider a special rule on the same day that it is reported. The rule is debated under the hour rule. Special rules reported by the Rules Committee are debated under a House rule that permits Members specifically recognized by the Chair to hold the floor for no more than one hour. The hour is managed by the majority party member of the Rules Committee calling up the rule, not the committee that reported the underlying bill. Out of custom, one-half the time is yielded to a minority member of the Rules Committee. At the end of debate, the previous question is put to a vote in order to cut off further debate, prevent the offering of additional amendments to the rule, and bring the special rule to an immediate vote.
Special Rule Types
Rules are traditionally referred to along a spectrum, where on one end they are open and the other they are closed. While there is wide variation in the middle, there are certain standard kinds of rules.
Open Rules—permit the offering of any amendment that otherwise complies with House rules, and allows debate under the 5-minute rule.
Modified-Open Rules—operate much like an open rule, but have some restriction on the “universe” of amendments, either through a pre-printing requirement or an overall time limit on consideration of amendments.
Structured Rules—specify that only certain amendments may be considered and specify the time for debate.
Closed Rules—effectively eliminate the opportunity to consider amendments, other than those reported by the committee reporting the bill.
Chairman of the Standing House Committee on Rules
(1849-1850; 1880 to present)
The House established a standing Committee on Rules by resolution on December 27, 1849, at the opening of the 31st Congress (1849-1851). It was terminated as a standing committee in the second session of that Congress, when the House reverted to its longtime practice of appointing a temporary select committee on rules at the opening of each Congress. On March 2, 1880, during the 46th Congress, the Committee on Rules was again re-established as a standing committee, and that status was continued under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946.
- Twenty-seven individuals have chaired the standing Committee on Rules; the very first chairman was David Kaufman of Texas.
- The longest-serving chairman was Howard Smith of Virginia who chaired the committee from 1955 to 1967.
- More Members from New York (5) have chaired the committee than any other state: Bertrand Snell, John O’Conner, James Delaney, Gerald Solomon, and Louise Slaughter. Slaughter is the only woman to have chaired the committee.
- Seven Speakers of the House chaired the committee from 1880 until 1910 when House Rules were modified after the Cannon Revolt to remove the Speaker from the chairmanship: Samuel Randall of Pennsylvania, J. Warren Keifer of Ohio, John Carlisle of Kentucky, Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine, Charles Crisp of Georgia, David Henderson of Iowa, and Joseph Cannon of Illinois.
|31st (1849–50)||David Kaufman||DEM||TX|
|46th (1880–81)||Samuel Randall||DEM||PA|
|47th (1881–83)||J. Warren Keifer||REP||OH|
|48th–50th (1883–89)||John Carlisle||DEM||KY|
|51st (1889–91)||Thomas Brackett Reed||REP||ME|
|52nd–53rd (1891–95)||Charles Crisp||DEM||GA|
|54th–55th (1895–99)||Thomas Brackett Reed||REP||ME|
|56th–57th (1899–1903)||David Henderson||REP||IA|
|58th–61st (1903–10)||Joseph Cannon||REP||IL|
|61st (1910–11)||John Dalzell||REP||PA|
|62nd–64th (1911–17)||Robert Henry||DEM||TX|
|65th (1917–19)||Edward Pou||DEM||NC|
|66th–67th (1919–23)||Philip Campbell||REP||KS|
|68th–71st (1923–31)||Bertrand Snell||REP||NY|
|72nd–73rd (1931–35)||Edward Pou||DEM||NC|
|74th–75th (1935–39)||John O'Conner||DEM||NY|
|76th–79th (1939–47)||Adolph Sabath||DEM||IL|
|80th (1947–49)||Leo Allen||REP||IL|
|81st–82nd (1949–51)||Adolph Sabath||DEM||IL|
|83rd (1953–55)||Leo Allen||REP||IL|
|84th–89th (1955–67)||Howard Smith||DEM||VA|
|90th–92nd (1967–73)||William Colmer||DEM||MS|
|93rd–94th (1973–77)||Ray Madden||DEM||IN|
|95th (1977–79)||James Delaney||DEM||NY|
|96th–97th (1979–83)||Richard Bolling||DEM||MO|
|98th–101st (1983–89)||Claude Pepper||DEM||FL|
|101st–103rd (1989–95)||J. Joseph Moakley||DEM||MA|
|104th–105th (1995–99)||Gerald Solomon||REP||NY|
|106th–109th (1999–2007)||David Dreier||REP||CA|
|110th–111th (2007–09)||Louise Slaughter||DEM||NY|
|112th (2011–13)||David Dreier||REP||CA|
|113th–115th (2013–18)||Pete Sessions||REP||TX|
|116th-Present (2019-)||James P. McGovern||DEM||MA|
Hearing Room Committee Chair Portraits
Entering Congress in 1987, Louise Slaughter became the first female chair of the Rules Committee in 2007. Slaughter was chairwoman of the Committee from 2007 to 2011 (110th-111th Congresses) and served as Ranking Member while in the minority party until her passing in 2018. Throughout her time in Congress, Congresswoman Slaughter fought to address science and health-related issues as she had a background in microbiology and public health.
John "Joe" Moakley(D-MA)
Congressman Moakley serves as chairman of the House Rules Committee from 1989 to 1995 (101st-103rd Congresses). Moakley opposed the legislative veto and was vindicated when the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional in 1983
Congressman Pepper served as chairman of the House Rules Committee from 1983 until his death in 1989 (98th-101st Congresses). Pepper was first elected to the United States Senate in 1936, and is one of very few individuals to subsequently serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Shortly before his death, George H.W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Congressman Solomon was chairman of the House Rules Committee from 1995 to 1999 (104th-105th Congresses). As a retired Marine, Solomon fought for veterans’ benefits throughout his time in Congress. Solomon was well-known for the “Solomon Amendment,” which amended the United States Code to allow for federal grants to be denied to institutions of higher education if they prohibit ROTC or military recruitment on campus.
Congressman Madden was 80 years old when he became chairman of the House Rules Committee in 1973 (93rd Congress), and served until he lost reelection four years later during the 94th Congress. Prior to being elected to Congress, he served as a judge in Omaha, Nebraska but resigned to serve in the Navy during the First World War.
Congressman Bolling served as chairman of the House Rules Committee from 1979 to 1983 (96th-97th Congresses). Bolling cited his role in helping pass the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction as the accomplishment that gave him most pride.
Congressman Campbell served as chairman of the House Rules Committee from 1919 to 1923 (66th-67th Congresses). Campbell was born in Canada but moved to Kansas with his parents as a child. During his time in Congress, Campbell spoke out against Jim Crow laws.