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As we have noted repeatedly, there are enough votes in the U.S. House of Representatives to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship. And yet the House has yet to take up immigration reform, thanks to Speaker John Boehner’s insistence on invoking the Hastert Rule, a.k.a the Hastert Excuse, in which Boehner will only bring bills to the floor that have a majority of support in his caucus. We call it the Hastert Excuse because even Boehner does not consider it sacrosanct; he’s gone around it at least three times this year when he needed to pass bills that a majority of House Republicans refused to support. When he does insist on using it, as with immigration reform and the current government shutdown, it’s an excuse so that he won’t have to confront the two dozen or so Tea Partiers in his caucus whom he’s allowed to run wild.
Turns out, according to former Speaker Dennis Hastert himself, the excuse that Boehner has been leaning on doesn’t even really exist. As Eleanor Clift at the Daily Beast wrote today:
There’s been a lot said in recent days about the so-called Hastert Rule. It is cited as the main reason why House Speaker John Boehner won’t allow a vote to fund the government with no Obamacare strings attached—under the rule, no legislation can be brought to the floor without a majority of Republican votes. But the rule’s namesake, former House speaker Denny Hastert, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday, “The Hastert Rule never really existed. It’s a non-entity as far as I’m concerned.”
He explained that at the 2006 press conference where he is credited with instituting the rule, he was speaking generally and philosophically. A reporter asked if Hastert, who was having trouble getting an immigration reform bill out of committee and building support in the GOP conference, couldn’t get Democrats to work with him. The genial speaker replied that relying on the other party for the bulk of votes is “something I would not generally do,” a fairly benign statement, as he remembers it now, that appears to have morphed into an ironclad rule. “Generally speaking, I needed to have a majority of my majority, at least half of my conference. This wasn’t a rule. I was speaking philosophically at the time…The Hastert Rule is kind of a misnomer”…
A former high school wrestling coach, hardworking and plainspoken, he was a refreshing change after Gingrich’s grandiosity. “The real Hastert Rule is 218,” he said, referring to the number of votes needed to pass legislation. “If we had to work with Democrats, we did,” he said.
House Republicans are running out of excuses. They’ve claimed that they couldn’t take action on immigration reform because a bill didn’t exist in the House–well, one was introduced yesterday. Boehner has claimed that he can’t act without a majority of his caucus–well, the literal namesake of that excuse has just told us that’s not a real thing. Boehner is blocking a vote by using a procedural tactic that doesn’t really exist.
The time is now for immigration reform. Speaker Boehner, get our bill on the floor.