How Dennis Hastert Also Molested Our Democracy

Isaiah J. Poole

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Wednesday received an incredibly light sentence for actions related to the sexual abuse of boys he supervised when he was a high school athletics coach. U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin used the phrase “serial child molester” in describing Hastert, but his punishment is directly related to evading money reporting laws while he was paying off one of his student victims to buy his silence.

There is another case of molestation – specifically to our democratic process – for which Hastert is not being punished at all. It relates to how Hastert changed the House of Representatives when he became its speaker, and Scott Lilly of the Center for American Progress lays out the details in a lengthy article in The Huffington Post.

Lilly witnessed the changes Hastert brought to the House firsthand as a senior Democratic congressional staff member until 2004, having served as staff director of the House Appropriations Committee and executive director of the House Democratic Study Group.

“Just as Hastert abused his authority as a coach and teacher in the Yorkville, Illinois schools, he in my judgment had a similar record as master of the House,” Lilly writes.

One way he has done this is through what has become known as “the Hastert rule,” which we have previously highlighted. The so-called “rule” is used to keep any legislation off the House floor that does not have majority Republican support. That means bills what would pass the House by a significant margin, because they would pick up significant support from Republicans as well as a majority of Democrats, are nonetheless blocked from consideration.

“That greatly empowered the most extreme members of the House Republican Conference, essentially meaning that fewer than a dozen members collectively representing less than 3 percent of the American people could block any legislation with which they disagreed,” Lilly writes. “Conversely, it meant more than 200 members of the opposition party, members who collectively had been elected by more than 45 percent of the American people, could never cast a single vote that would determine [the] outcome [of] legislation.”

Lilly also blames Hastert for making congressional committees more tools of the Republican Party leadership and less independent monitors of executive branch actions, and for “a dramatic subjugation of Congress to the executive branch.”

Read Scott Lilly’s “The House that Denny Built” in The Huffington Post.

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