As much as House Speaker John Boehner may secretly want to pursue immigration reform, it's not going to happen this year. Basically, Republicans don't want to hand President Obama a big, legislative win in an election year, and the conservative voters who vote in their primaries tend not to support immigration reform. But now, a liberal Washington Post columnist is floating the idea that House Democrats could band with a few moderate House Republicans to force a vote on the Senate's Gang of Eight immigration bill. This is a hail mary pass that House Democrats probably won't even try.
E.J. Dionne suggested in his column on Wednesday, "supporters [of immigration reform] should be thinking about a discharge petition to force Boehner’s hand — or maybe even to allow him to do what he’s said privately he’d like to do. If a majority of House members signed it, there could be a successful vote for the immigration bill the Senate already passed."
Today's Politico Playbook features a statement from Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer supporting this idea:
The idea that's begun circulating, to do a discharge petition on immigration reform in the House, is a good one and I would urge House Democrats to take it up. It's clear a majority of the House supports immigration reform. A minority faction has scared Republicans out of acting even though large parts of the Republican base, including business and religious groups, support the bill, making a discharge petition an appropriate remedy.
The thinking is, there were enough House Republicans — 28 of them — who voted for a clean debt ceiling hike. Those Republicans would sign a discharge petition to bring the Senate's immigration reform bill to the House floor (218 signatures are needed on a discharge petition).
But the idea of using a discharge petition has been batted around by liberal pundits since August. It's highly unlikely that the same number of House Republicans who voted for a debt ceiling hike would go against Boehner to vote for non-essential legislation. As Martin Longman at The Washington Monthly explained in September,
The problem is that signing a discharge petition when you are in the majority is considered deeply disloyal to the Speaker, and it can come with severe repercussions, like the loss of a committee assignment or the cold shoulder from leadership on favored legislation or fundraising. It isn’t like all the Republicans who support immigration reform are going to be supportive of a discharge petition even if they want reform to pass.
Still, Schumer thinks the votes are there. On Morning Joe today, he insisted,
In this Senate … we forged a coalition. So in the House there’s a lot of trouble because our Tea Party friends are very much against it, and while a lot of Republicans are the same as I believe they were on the debt, they want to vote no but hope yes, there’s a real chance, I still think, to get this done.
He echoes the idea that The New York Times' Carl Hulse put forth yesterday, that many House Republicans' strategy was to "vote no" but "hope yes" on the debt ceiling hike.
But as The Washington Post's Greg Sargent points out, immigration reform is not a "must pass." There won't be enough House Republicans to stand with Democrats on this one.