/  About the Committee on Rules - History and Processes

About the Committee on Rules - History and Processes

The Committee

The Committee on Rules is the oldest committee 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.

Ranking Member Tom Cole

Tom Cole (R-OK) has served in the House of Representatives since 2002 and served on the House Rules Committee since 2013.

Elected to Congress in 2002, Tom Cole is currently serving in his tenth term representing the Fourth District of Oklahoma. Identified by Time Magazine as "one of the sharpest minds in the House," Cole is an advocate for a strong national defense, a tireless advocate for taxpayers and small businesses, and a leader on issues dealing with Native Americans and tribal governments. Since 2013, he has served on the House Rules Committee; in 2019, he was appointed Ranking Member of the panel. He is a fifth generation Oklahoman and an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation.

Cole is widely regarded as one of the GOP's top political strategists. He served as Executive Director of the National Republican Congressional Committee in the 1992 cycle. He also served as the Chief of Staff of the Republican National Committee during the historic 2000 cycle in which Republicans won the presidency, the Senate and the House for the first time in 48 years. In the 2008 cycle, Cole served as Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Before Congress, he served Oklahoma as a State Senator and Secretary of State. 

Rules Committee Republicans

  • Tom Cole


    Congressman Cole serves as the Ranking Republican for the Rules Committee

  • Michael Burgess


    After spending nearly three decades practicing medicine in North Texas, Dr. Burgess has served the constituents of the 26th District since 2003 in the United States House of Representatives. He currently serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Rules Committee, and House Budget Committee. 

  • Guy Reschenthaler


    Born and raised in southwestern Pennsylvania, Congressman Guy Reschenthaler joined the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General Corps after law school and volunteered for duty in Iraq, where he prosecuted nearly 100 terrorists. Before being elected to represent Pennsylvania’s 14th District, Guy practiced law, ran a small real estate business, and served as a Magisterial District Judge and conservative State Senator in Pennsylvania.

  • Michelle Fischbach


    Michelle Fischbach is a wife, mom, grandma, attorney, and U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s Seventh Congressional District. She previously served as the first female president of the Minnesota Senate and as the state’s 49th lieutenant governor.

Special Rule Process

The process for reporting a special rule is a mixture of House rules, committee rules, and long-established practice.

  1. 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.
  2. The 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.
  3. The Rules Committee marks up a special rule, and in consultation with the majority leadership and the relevant committee chairs, determines the type of rule to be granted, including the amount of general debate, the amendment process, and waivers to be granted, if any.
  4. The special rule is reported and filed. Special rules must be filed from the floor while the House is in session.
  5. 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. 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 Rulespermit the offering of any amendment that otherwise complies with House rules, and allows debate under the 5-minute rule.

Modified-Open Rulesoperate 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 Rulesspecify that only certain amendments may be considered and specify the time for debate on the amendments.

Closed Ruleseffectively eliminate the opportunity to consider amendments, on the floor.

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 KaufmanDEMTX
46th (1880–81)Samuel RandallDEMPA
47th (1881–83)J. Warren KeiferREPOH
48th–50th (1883–89)John CarlisleDEMKY
51st (1889–91)Thomas Brackett ReedREPME
52nd–53rd (1891–95)Charles CrispDEMGA
54th–55th (1895–99)Thomas Brackett ReedREPME
56th–57th (1899–1903)David HendersonREPIA
58th–61st (1903–10)Joseph CannonREPIL
61st (1910–11)John DalzellREPPA
62nd–64th (1911–17)Robert HenryDEMTX
65th (1917–19)Edward PouDEMNC
66th–67th (1919–23)Philip CampbellREPKS
68th–71st (1923–31)Bertrand SnellREPNY
72nd–73rd (1931–35)Edward PouDEMNC
74th–75th (1935–39)John O'ConnerDEMNY
76th–79th (1939–47)Adolph SabathDEMIL
80th (1947–49)Leo AllenREPIL
81st–82nd (1949–51)Adolph SabathDEM IL
83rd (1953–55)Leo AllenREPIL
84th–89th (1955–67)Howard SmithDEMVA
90th–92nd (1967–73)William ColmerDEMMS
93rd–94th (1973–77)Ray MaddenDEMIN
95th (1977–79)James DelaneyDEMNY
96th–97th (1979–83)Richard Bolling DEMMO
98th–101st (1983–89)Claude PepperDEMFL
101st–103rd (1989–95)J. Joseph MoakleyDEMMA
104th–105th (1995–99)Gerald SolomonREPNY
106th–109th (1999–2007)David DreierREPCA
110th–111th (2007–09)Louise SlaughterDEMNY
112th (2011–13)David DreierREPCA
113th–115th (2013–18)Pete SessionsREPTX
116th-117th (2019-Present)James P. McGovernDEMMA

Hearing Room Committee Chair Portraits

  • Louise Slaughter


    Entering Congress in 1987, Louise Slaughter was the first woman to represent Western New York, and in 2007, became the first female chair of the Rules Committee. Slaughter was chairwoman of the Committee from 2007 to 2011 (110th-111th Congresses) and also served as Ranking Member while in the minority party. Congresswoman Slaughter had an interest in addressing science and health-related issues given her background in microbiology and public health. 

  • John "Joe" Moakley


    Congressman Moakley served 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

  • Claude Pepper


    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.

  • Gerald Solomon


    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.

  • Ray Madden


    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. 

  • Richard Bolling


    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 the most pride.

  • Philip Campbell


    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.