Dennis Hastert

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Dennis Hastert
Dennis Hastert

John Dennis Hastert (born January 2, 1942), American politician, has been Speaker of the United States House of Representatives since 1999. Since 1987, he has been a Republican congressman from Illinois, representing that state's 14th District.


Early life

Hastert was born in Aurora and grew up in Oswego. He graduated from Wheaton College, Illinois in 1964 and earned a master's degree in education from Northern Illinois University in 1967. He moved to Yorkville, 55 miles west of Chicago and took a job as a government and history teacher at Yorkville High School. He also coached wrestling and football, leading the wrestling team to a state title in 1976. In 1980, he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives and served three terms, becoming ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee.

14th District Congressman John Groteberg did not run for a second term in 1986 due to a terminal illness. Hastert was nominated by a Republican convention to succeed him. He faced Mary Lou Kearns, the Democratic coroner of Kane County. Hastert initially ran a sluggish campaign, but eventually the district's strong Republican lean (the 14th has been held by Republicans for all but four years since its formation in 1903) prevailed, allowing Hastert to win with 52 percent of the vote. He has never faced another contest nearly that close, winning reelection nine times with close to 70 percent of the vote.

Rise to the Speakership

Hastert's rise to the Speakership came unexpectedly. During his first 12 years in Congress, he had been a relatively low-key member with a reliably conservative voting record. After the Republicans took control of the House in 1995, Hastert was named Chief Deputy Whip, the highest appointed position in the House Republican caucus. In this position, he was chief vote-counter for Majority Whip Tom DeLay.

Following a disappointing Republican performance in the 1998 elections and facing rebellion from his caucus, Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia abruptly resigned from the Speakership and did not take his seat for an 11th term. Appropriations Committee chairman Bob Livingston of Louisiana quickly gathered enough support within the Republican caucus to become de facto Speaker-elect, but announced that he would resign his seat as well after admitting to an extramarital affair revealed by Larry Flynt. This series of events occurred amid the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

With the departures of Gingrich and Livingston, the likely candidates for the Speakership seemed to be Majority Leader Dick Armey and DeLay, both from Texas. However, both were seen as vulnerable. Armey had only recently deflected a challenge from Oklahoma's Steve Largent to unseat him as majority leader. DeLay was as controversial then as now, and was well aware that with a sharply reduced majority (indeed, it was at least in part Gingrich's prediction of a 30-seat win, and subsequent 5-seat loss, that had forced Gingrich out of the House), he would be too controversial and polarizing for the Republicans to reliably transact business in such a closely divided Congress. The leadership then turned to Hastert as a compromise candidate.

Following his election as Speaker, Hastert unusually delivered his acceptance speech from the floor, allowing Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri to preside briefly. Hastert noted the need for both parties to work together, saying: "Solutions to problems cannot be found in a pool of bitterness. They can be found in an environment in which we trust one another's word; where we generate heat and passion, but where we recognize that each member is equally important to our overall mission of improving the life of the American people."

As Speaker

Although Hastert, as Speaker, is nominal leader of the House Republicans, he does not take a public leadership role, and many felt that the Majority Leader (first Armey, then DeLay, then Roy Blunt) holds the real power. Hastert has strongly denied this. Some have offered the observation that while Gingrich was a bombastic strategist, Hastert is a quiet tactician; the contrast of his predecessor may have exaggerated Hastert's preferred working style.

In 2001, Hastert visited Osweiler, the village in Luxembourg where his ancestors are from.

In September 2004, billionaire currency trader George Soros filed an official complaint with the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct charging Hastert with implying Soros received illegal drug money during radio and television interviews. Soros claimed that Hastert's comments "strongly suggests a deliberate effort to use smear tactics, intimidation and falsehoods to silence criticism."

Hastert has been a prominent advocate of the Fairtax proposal to replace the income tax with a national sales tax. He has also generally been an advocate of a more restricted immigration policy[1].

Support for Turkey

During his time in Congress, it is alleged that Hastert has worked against legislation that the Turkish government has considered to be against its interests, particularly initiatives related to the Armenian genocide of 1915-23. He has frequently travelled to Turkey.

In October 2000, Hastert withdrew at the last minute a promised House vote on a resolution to recognize the Armenian killings. Hastert claimed that this was prompted by a telephone conversation with then-President Bill Clinton in which "Clinton said he was 'deeply concerned' about the language in the document... Hastert said Clinton had warned of 'possible far-reaching negative consequences for the United States' if the House voted on the legislation." ([2]). Hastert defended pulling the vote, saying "I believe the Armenian people suffered a historic tragedy, and that this resolution was a fitting condemnation of those events. But the president of the United States, the commander and chief of our Armed Forces, has asked us not to bring this resolution to the House floor. This is not an idle request. We all know that the situation in the Middle East is unusually tense."([3]) He blocked similar legislation in 2004. [4]

In August 2005, an article published in Vanity Fair reported that FBI translator turned whistleblower Sibel Edmonds alleged that she listened to wiretaps in which Turkish nationals boasted that Hastert had accepted bribes.[5] A Hastert spokesperson has called the article "nonsense" [6]. The claims have not been proven or disproven.

New Orleans rebuilding controversy

In 2005 Hastert generated controversy on 1 September when he said spending Federal money to rebuild New Orleans from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina "doesn't make sense to me."[7]. Hastert went on to say that "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed"[8].

Hastert's web site responds to this controversy with the following statements: "It is important that when we rebuild this historic city that we consider the safety of the citizens first. I am not advocating that the city be abandoned or relocated."

On September 2, Hastert was in Indiana attending a fundraiser for Republican Rep. Mark Souder rather than being in Washington leading the House of Representatives in voting on the Hurricane Katrina emergency appropriation bill. Nancy Pelosi has stated that Hastert refused to call a special session of Congress on Katrina as late as August 31.


External links

Preceded by:
John E. Grotberg
United States Representative for the 14th Congressional District of Illinois
Succeeded by:
(n/a: incumbent)
Preceded by:
Newt Gingrich
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
January 6, 1999January 3, 2003;
January 7, 2003January 3, 2005;
January 4, 2005–present
Preceded by:
Richard B. Cheney
United States Presidential Line of Succession
Succeeded by:
Ted Stevens
Illinois Congressional Delegation serving in the 109th United States Congress
Senators Richard Durbin (D), Barack Obama (D)
Representative(s) Bobby Rush (D), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D), Dan Lipinski (D), Luis Gutiérrez (D), Rahm Emanuel (D), Henry Hyde (R), Danny K. Davis (D), Melissa Bean (D), Jan Schakowsky (D), Mark Kirk (R), Jerry Weller (R), Jerry Costello (D), Judy Biggert (R), Dennis Hastert (R), Timothy V. Johnson (R), Donald A. Manzullo (R), Lane Evans (D), Ray LaHood (R), John Shimkus (R)


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