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Greg Sargent: John Boehner is Bluffing on House Bill Tough Talk

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This week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has begun to talk tough about how he plans to move immigration through the House—with a majority of the majority, he says, and no violation of the Hastert rule.

At a closed-door meeting with conservatives today and a press conference after, Boehner talked trash about the Senate immigration bill and said that there are no extenuating circumstances (like a fiscal cliff) for which he would violate the Hastert rule for immigration reform:

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.  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….

I frankly think the Senate bill is weak on border security, I think the internal enforcement mechanisms are weak and the triggers are almost laughable

But Greg Sargent at the Washington Post is ready to call Boehner’s bluff.  According to Sargent, Boehner has left himself an opening to call a vote on a bill that includes a path to citizenship.  If the House is forced to take up the Senate bill (which has a path to citizenship), or if a House bill is conference in with the Senate bill and comes back with citizenship…will Boehner really let the opportunity to pass immigration reform and save his party’s demographic future slip by?

There’s some interesting sleight of hand here. Note that Boehner seems more focused on enforcement and border security than on citizenship. The Speaker is claiming that if a majority of House Republicans thinks the emerging proposal isn’t tough enough on border security, then the House won’t vote on it. But the real Rubicon House Republicans must cross is the path to citizenship. What happens if a majority of House Republicans can’t support the path to citizenship, no matter how tough the border security elements are made? In that scenario, if Boehner holds to his vow, the House wouldn’t vote on anything that includes citizenship, right? And that scenario very well may come to pass.

Someone needs to ask the Speaker: If a majority of House Republicans can’t accept a path to citizenship, will you really not allow a House vote on any emerging proposal that contains one?

There are two apparent endgames here. Either the House ends up not passing anything. In that case Boehner will have to decide whether to allow the House to vote on the Senate bill — including a path to citizenship. He claims he won’t allow it if a majority of Republicans opposes it. But the pressure on him to allow a vote will be very intense, from powerful GOP stakeholders such as the business community and wide swaths of the consulting/strategist establishment.

Or, alternatively, the House passes something and we go to conference. What happens if whatever emerges from conference contains a path to citizenship, and a majority of House Republicans don’t support it?

Asked today by reporters what would happen then, Boehner’s response contained a key tell:

Asked he would require majority Republican support on a bill that came out of  a formal negotiation with the senate, Boehner said “we’ll see when we get  there.”

In other words, Boehner would not rule out a vote that violates the supposed “Hastert Rule.”

I’m with Jonathan Bernstein: This all turns on whether enough Republicans privately want comprehensive reform to pass for the good of the party, even if they are not prepared to vote for it. If so, Boehner will let it go to the floor. Even if it must pass with mostly Dems. Don’t buy all the tough talk. Boehner himself doesn’t know how this is going to end.