House Speaker John Boehner said today that he wouldn’t bring an immigration bill to the floor if it doesn’t have the backing of a majority of the Republican conference.
But he only committed to follow that guideline, commonly referred to as the “Hastert Rule,” for initial passage of a House bill. On a conference bill reflecting a compromise with the Senate — the vote that really counts — he wouldn’t commit.
That means immigration reform could still pass in the way that other major recent bills, including the fiscal cliff deal and the last debt ceiling increase, have passed: With strong support from Democrats and enough Republican votes to put it over the top.
The House would initially pass an immigration bill with strong Republican or bipartisan support that does not meet the criteria for “comprehensive reform,” and it would come back from a Senate conference looking much more like the Senate’s comprehensive bill.
That’s likely the only way a comprehensive deal can get done. While Republican leadership favours a comprehensive reform bill, opposition to a path to citizenship for unauthorised immigrants currently in the U.S. is strong among rank-and-file House Republicans.
Boehner’s remarks today carefully threaded a needle, reflecting the fact that many conservatives will be unhappy about an immigration deal passed mostly with Democratic votes.
“I also suggested to our members today that any immigration reform bill that is going to go into law ought to have a majority of both parties’ support if we’re really serious about making that happen,” Boehner said at a press conference. “And so I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have a majority support of Republicans.”
But when a reporter asked him if he would require the rule to be applied to a House-Senate compromise bill, he said only, “We’ll see when we get there.”
For Boehner, the stakes could be immense. When asked on Tuesday if he thinks he could lose his speakership by bringing a bill to the floor without majority support, he quipped, “Maybe.” We may find out.
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