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Hastert’s Friendly Reminder: Follow the Rules, Please

As Republican leaders worked to put their stamp on the new Congress and pass a sweeping reorganization package this week, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) moved to clamp down on some very basic House rules.

Hastert distributed a “Dear Colleague” letter late Monday reminding lawmakers about rules pertaining to staff and decorum in the House chamber.

“I have asked the Sergeant-at-Arms to vigorously enforce the rules and I would appreciate your help,” he wrote.

First and foremost, Hastert highlighted a rule that limits the number of staff allowed on the House floor. Referring to a provision allowing committee staffers to be on the floor when business from their committees is under consideration, Hastert reminded his colleagues that only four professional staff members and one clerk of the committee are allowed and that all staff must check in with the doormen in the Speaker’s Lobby before entering the chamber.

He also underscored a provision allowing only one staffer per Member to be on the floor when the lawmaker has an amendment under consideration.

“The Member must have an amendment and the staff must check in with the doormen in the Speaker’s Lobby,” Hastert added. “Leadership staff with specific responsibilities will be admitted under a codified process. No other staff will otherwise be admitted to the floor.”

One GOP leadership aide said Hastert, as well as many rank-and-file Members, are fed up with the number of staffers milling about on the floor without any obvious need to be there. The aide noted that GOP leaders had expressed similar concerns about the number of staff “showing up and eating the pizza” at closed-door GOP Conference meetings.

“We have too many staffers hanging out on the floor and in the Conference,” the source said. “Members need a place to talk to each other, and with all the aides in the room sometimes lawmakers don’t feel as comfortable as they should to do their business.”

But other Republican staffers were outraged by Hastert’s move to block them from the floor and limit access to their bosses, arguing that stricter limits would make their jobs more difficult and hamper communication.

“Any time you start limiting access, you start hurting morale,” one staffer complained.

In the letter, Hastert also re-emphasized the rules governing lawmakers’ movement on the floor when the Speaker or another Member is addressing the House, reminding lawmakers not to walk around or pass between the person speaking and the lawmaker acting as chairman that day.

Hastert also felt compelled to chastise lawmakers for failing to live up to the sartorial standards the House of Representatives requires on the floor, specifically mentioning that hats are not allowed. Cellphones, electronic BlackBerry devices and computers were also on Hastert’s “do not do list.”

“Members and staff should remember they are in a public forum when they are present on the floor of the House,” he wrote. “They should dress in appropriate business attire.”

“People are just getting sloppy,” an aide concluded.

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