Just the Facts

Five Facts: How the House 'Queen of the Hill' Rule Works

By Emma Petasis
May 17, 2018 | Blog

In a piece this week, New York Magazine called the U.S. House, “a graveyard for major immigration legislation.” While the Senate has debated and voted on several bills, House leaders have thus far failed to bring legislation to the floor. But that could change very soon.


A group of Republican lawmakers is working to force House leaders to address immigration and border security, using several obscure procedural tools. One is a discharge petition, which could require leadership to move a bill to a vote. These same lawmakers are also pushing to use a “queen of the hill ” rule, which would allow the House to vote on multiple bills to find a solution. Here’s what you need to know.


House rules for floor debate are malleable

In the House, the rules for debate can change with each piece of legislation. When a bill leaves a House committee, it generally goes to the Rules Committee, which determines the procedures that will be used on the floor. These rules govern everything from the amendment process to the amount of time that lawmakers can speak. The Rules Committee generally sets terms that favor the legislative strategy set by the speaker of the House. For example, if House leadership is pushing a bill, the rules will generally favor passage.


‘Queen of the Hill’ is a rarely used option

In a Queen of the Hill rule, multiple bills are brought to the floor for a vote. The legislation that both draws a majority of votes (218 in the 435-member chamber) and that wins more votes than any other carries the day. The rule is rarely used because the outcome can be uncertain, and the debate often exposes the divisions within the House majority.


‘Queen of the Hill’ is used when there’s no consensus

In the past, House leadership has used the rule as a means to placate the majority when lawmakers are divided on an issue. For example, Speaker John Boehner used the rule to address a budget bill in 2015 when his majority was divided over spending priorities. In the current immigration and border security debate, it is Republican lawmakers pushing for a Queen of the Hill rule, rather than the speaker. Rep. Jeff Denham, a California Republican, has introduced a resolution to use the Queen of the Hill rule, which would require a majority vote to pass. A discharge petition is already underway to bring the resolution to a vote, which would prevent House leaders from blocking it.


‘Queen of the Hill’ strips leadership of some control

One major feature of the Queen of the Hill rule is that it takes control of the outcome out of the hands of the speaker and his or her leadership team. Normally, House leaders offer a bill that they favor. Before a vote is held, negotiations have taken place and the outcome is often assured. Under a Queen of the Hill rule, multiple bills are offered and the outcome can be less certain.


‘Queen of the Hill’ could break the impasse

With so much to decide on immigration and border security, multiple bills have been written and each offers different solutions. House Republicans are divided in their support of these bills. To date, House leaders have not backed any one piece of legislation, but Speaker Paul Ryan is under increasing pressure to address the issue. The Queen of the Hill rule could allow a House debate, give lawmakers a chance to argue their positions and give each bill a vote.

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