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Greg Sargent: If House Kills Reform, It's Because John Boehner Let It Happen

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The final vote to pass the Gang of 8 immigration bill through the Senate is almost certain to come this week, and already many eyes are looking toward the House.  With Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) indicating that he will not break the Hastert rule to pass the immigration bill, observers are wondering how an immigration bill that includes a path to citizenship could win a majority of the majority.

Fawn Johnson today at National Review doesn’t believe there’s a way for immigration to pass the House, considering the short time left before August recess, what tends to happen to legislation over August recess, and the debt ceiling showdown scheduled to take place when Congress gets back.

Rebuttals to Johnson’s argument, however, are making it clear: Republicans have a real opportunity to pass immigration reform this year.  They’ll have to pass legislation eventually, and support for their ideas will probably only go downhill from here.  John Boehner knows this, and knows that he must pass reform in order to give his party a demographic lifeline into the future.

As Greg Sargent wrote at the Washington Post (in a post entitled ‘Will John Boehner really kill historic opportunity to reform immigration?’) today: “Make no mistake: If the base does succeed in killing immigration reform, it’s only because House GOP leaders allowed it to.”

He continued:

It’s all but certain that in the end, a majority of House Republicans won’t support anything that includes a path to citizenship, which will cast real doubt on reform’s prospects. But what folks aren’t quite reckoning with yet is the amount of intense pressure John Boehner and other House GOP leaders are going to feel to let comprehensive reform come to a vote, even if it must pass the House with mostly Dems.

Boehner has vowed this won’t happen. But if reform passes the Senate with 70 votes, leading GOP Senators such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and top members of the consultant/strategist establishment, such as Karl Rove, will fan across the airwaves and pummel away at the GOP leadership to allow it to come to a vote, arguing that failure to do so will constitute demographic suicide. The Wall Street Journal editorial page and other GOP-aligned opinion leaders such as Sean Hannity will likely join the chorus.

We already know that the GOP base is going to kick up a lot of noise against reform. The only question is whether the GOP leadership is willing to buck the base to let reform pass for the long term good of the party. If the Senate passes reform by a wide margin, Boehner will be in the position of having to decide whether to allow the House GOP to take the blame for killing a historic opportunity to reform our broken immigration system.

To be clear, Boehner very well may end up deciding not to let comprehensive reform come to a vote if it must pass with mostly Dems; after all, many Republicans argue that reform won’t actually help the GOP. But the point is, this is not a certain outcome by any means. Don’t buy Boehner’s public insistence that he won’t allow anything to get a vote if it doesn’t have the support of a majority of House Republicans; there’s no reason to believe this has actually been decided; and you should certainly not rule out the possibility that in the end, Boehner may allow it to slip through. Will that imperil his Speakership? Not necessarily. If enough mainstream House conservativesprivately want reform to pass, even if they’re not prepared to vote for it, he’d be okay. To be clear, we don’t know right now whether enough Republicans will reach this conclusion in the end. But they very well might.

As for suggestions that the expected noise from the GOP base ensures that reform will die in the House, remember: if the base does kill reform, it will only be because Boehner let it happen.