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There has been a lot of speculation on whether Boehner will stick to the so-called Hastert Rule, allowing no bill to come to the floor unless it can pass with a majority of the majority. He has said he will not break this promise. That may be his heart’s true desire, but we can’t really know right now. Boehner understands that the more Democrats think he needs them for passage of a comprehensive bill, the more they’ll demand from him. So even if Boehner were planning to pass immigration reform with a minority of his party, he will maintain his firm stance on the Hastert Rule until the very last minute.
In the end, the question is not whether John Boehner is a leader. He is - he’s just a leader with modest ambitions. In the study of House speakers, the debate splits along lines familiar to presidential observers. Presidents are either “at liberty . . . to be as big a man as he can,” as Woodrow Wilson wrote when he was a Princeton political science professor. Or presidents are circumscribed by the political conditions they face, as Wilson discovered when he actually had the job. In congressional studies, the split is over whether a speaker is merely an agent carrying out the will of his conference or whether a powerful speaker can make his own weather.
When Schieffer asked Boehner about his legacy, the speaker responded that he hoped people would say, “He was fair to all and protected the institution.” John Boehner just wants to be a good shepherd.
John Dickerson is Slate’s chief political correspondent and author of “On Her Trail.”
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