Picture this: the clock is winding down, the pressure is high, and Speaker John Boehner knows he must do something. The House GOP caucus, after resisting the inevitable for months, realizes that there’s only one way forward, and puts up enough votes for Boehner to credibly pass a piece of legislation, even without the Hastert rule. Was this the state of things as the House finally voted to end the shutdown and lift the debt ceiling last night? Or could it also describe one way immigration reform might pass later this year?
Now that the fiscal crisis negotiations have, for now, wrapped up, the pressure is on Congress to pivot back to immigration. At least twice in the past few days, President Obama has made public remarks on why the House must pass immigration reform this year. The question is, why hasn’t Speaker Boehner called for a vote yet? And when will he do so?
Yesterday, National Journal’s Ron Fournier worried that immigration reform was too political an issue to take up after the recent fiscal fight. ABC-Univision’s Jordan Fabian points out that there’s scarcely any time left on this year’s Congressional calendar.
The thing is, if John Boehner wanted to, passing immigration reform through the House could be easy. During the fiscal negotiations of the last few weeks, he vowed he wouldn’t break the Hastert rule. It’s pretty clear that self-imposed excuse is no longer operable. Boehner vowed not to take up the Senate bill that re-opened the government and lifted the debt ceiling. The House ended up taking the Senate bill. As everyone is noting this morning, Boehner and the House GOP could have saved themselves a lot of time and trouble if they’d just done that for the start. The same can be true of passing immigration reform. The Speaker and his caucus are out of excuses.
Any way you break it down, there exist enough votes to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship through the House. Currently, there are 183 co-sponsors on the House immigration bill introduced two weeks ago. It is estimated that 200 Democrats could join with the 26 Republicans who are on the record supporting a path to citizenship, to ultimately pass such a bill. Today, in the wake of the fiscal votes, commentators are noting that at least 86 House Republicans have crossed the aisle to vote with Democrats on more than one occasion that Speaker Boehner has lifted the Hastert rule. That number is similar to the 84 House Republicans that the Weekly Standard recently identified as Congressmembers who support some form of legalization. A governing coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans does exist. Speaker Boehner just needs to give them a vote.
As for political timing–the only way this turns into another ugly political fight is if House Tea Partiers, led by Steve King, insist on making it so. As with the fiscal negotiations, immigration is another fight they will lose, whether it be this year, or the next, or the next. But the longer it takes, the more damage they’ll do to the GOP. Immigration reform is a broadly supported issue, backed by 88% of all Americans and an unprecedented coalition. Immigration reform swings elections and turns out massive rallies. The opposition is distracted and lacking support.
So, the question isn’t whether immigration reform will pass. It’s why Speaker Boehner hasn’t called for a vote already.