The Rules That Rule the Rules

Politico’s Burgess Everett reports today on Sen. Mike Lee, who intends to run for the number 4 spot in the Republican Party Senate leadership but has become ensnared in a fight over party rules. Sen. Lee says he is running for an open seat because the current holder of that spot, Sen. Barrasso, is term limited under party rules, but Sen. McConnell doesn’t see it the same way, arguing Sen. Barrasso still can run for another term. Politically, running for an open seat is different from challenging an incumbent.

Personnel and process determine policy. How parties choose who serves in leadership roles, as committee chairs, and as members of particular committees matters a lot. To a large extent, the rules of the party conference or caucus control who can serve in leadership, as a committee chair, or on a committee — and lots of other things, too.

We cannot know whether Sen. Mike Lee is right on the term limits issue because we cannot see the rules that govern the process. Only House Republicans publish their conference rules online — in fact, they publish proposed changes to their rules, too. House Democrats, Senate Democrats, and Senate Republicans do not.

In February 2013 I praised the House Republican conference for “having the most transparent [party] rules in Congress,” and in September 2014 I organized letters to House Dems, Senate Dems, and Senate Republicans calling for online publication of their rules. While these important documents sometimes come into public view, leadership has not published the current rules online. They should take a page of the republican’s play book, in particular conference rule 29, which states:

To the maximum extent practicable, the Chair shall make the text of matters adopted during the organizational conference held pursuant to rule 3 publicly available in electronic form.

It’s time to put the party rules online.

Update: Politico just published the Senate GOP rules here.

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