House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert was presiding over a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, welcoming new Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Hastert sits next to Vice President Dick Cheney in the House chamber.
It's a seat Hastert has long filled. He has wielded the speaker's gavel since Jan. 6, 1999. On Monday, speaking in Chicago, President Bush made note of the record Hastert is poised to set:
"Do you realize that he will have served, come June 1, longer than any other Republican speaker in our nation's history? And the reason why -- he knows what he's doing."
Hastert, 64, who lives in Plano, will take the record from another GOP Illinoisan, Danville's Joseph Cannon, who served between Nov. 9, 1903, and April 4, 1911.
Long ago, Hastert beat the rap of being the "accidental speaker," a reference to how he got the job.
On Dec. 19, 1998, just before the House was to vote to impeach President Bill Clinton, Rep. Bob Livingston, tapped to replace Rep. Newt Gingrich as speaker, admitted to an affair and stepped down. Hastert nailed the speaker job with the backing of his powerful friend, Rep. Tom DeLay.
In an irony, Hastert, who tolerated assertions he was DeLay's tool, will make his record as DeLay quits June 9, under the cloud of a criminal indictment.
Perhaps Hastert's biggest misstep was letting DeLay try to change GOP rules to keep his majority leader spot even if indicted.
As speaker, Hastert has showered his suburban and exurban district, the state and Chicago with millions of federal dollars and projects.
A Bush loyalist, he nevertheless "sees this White House as pretty arrogant," said a former spokesman, John Feehery.
An example is the recent firing of former CIA chief Porter Goss without giving Hastert prior notice. And last week delivered another test of the relationship -- and of what happens when the White House forgets Hastert is the third-most-powerful Republican in the nation.
The speaker accused the Justice Department of trying to intimidate him by leaking information to ABC News that he was linked to the probe of convicted GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
"A brushback pitch," said his deputy chief of staff, Mike Stokke, fingering the leak -- denied by Justice -- as retaliation for Hastert's strong objections to an FBI raid last weekend of the office of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who is under investigation for public corruption.
Hastert said the search was a breach of the Constitution's separation-of-power provisions and told Bush that while in Chicago.
Bush steered the Hastert relationship back on track by "wisely" (Hastert's word) directing the Justice Department to work with the speaker on developing guidelines for congressional searches.
Hastert promised Bush to stay on through the end of the president's second term and is headed to an easy re-election. Whether Hastert even entertains the question of making this November run his last depends on the GOP's success in keeping the House.
Hastert, in his fourth term as speaker, keeps his cards close. It's a style that has served him well, and he has described it this way: He has made history by "under-promising and overproducing."