Guy Benson

The 'Hastert rule' holds?  A significant development, via the Examiner's David Drucker:

House Speaker John Boehner is not going to bring a comprehensive immigration-reform plan to the floor if a majority of Republicans don't support it, sources familiar with his plans said. "No way in hell," is how several described the chances of the speaker acting on such a proposal without a majority of his majority behind him. Boehner, R-Ohio, does not view immigration in the same vein as the fiscal cliff last December, when he backed a bill that protected most Americans from a tax increase even though less than half of the GOP lawmakers were with him, said multiple sources, who spoke anonymously to allow greater candor.

Over the last few months, Boehner has rankled conservatives by calling votes on bills that were opposed by a majority of the conference he leads.  He relied on dozens of votes from Democrats to pass a number pieces of legislation, including the fiscal cliff deal, Hurricane Sandy funding, and a controversial version of the Violence Against Women Act.  These breaches of tradition violated the so-called 'Hastert rule,' which stipulates that a Speaker only brings bills to the floor that will garner majority support among the majority party.  On the super-charged issues of immigration, Boehner won't play with fire, according to Drucker's sources; any plan that emerges from the House will have to attract support from a majority of GOP members.  Though the House has its own 'gang' working on a bipartisan solution, House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) has signaled a strong preference for breaking any "comprehensive" package into smaller, manageable pieces.  He's also stressed the importance of reversing the Gang of Eight's legalization two-step, wherein widespread provisional "amnesty" is granted before enforcement triggers are met.  I spoke with Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) on Hugh Hewitt's radio program last night (I'm guest-hosting all week), and he said he believes a sound majority of House Republicans will insist on an "enforcement first" paradigm:


GB: Congressman, let’s start with a report today in the Washington Examiner. We’ve been talking about it throughout the program. David Drucker, who’s just made the jump over from Roll Call, reports that sources close to the Speaker’s office who understand what the machinations are inside the Speaker’s strategy moving forward, they say there is 'no chance' that Speaker Boehner will allow a comprehensive immigration reform bill, such as whatever emerges from the Senate, be it the Gang of 8 or what have you, he will not allow that to come to the floor of the House unless he knows that a majority of the Republican majority conference backs whatever the bill is going to be.  Meaning he’s going to stand by the Hastert rule, which he has jettisoned on a number of occasions over the last year or so. Your reaction to those reports?

TC: Those reports, if true, reflect, in my opinion, Speaker Boehner simply reflecting the will of the House Republican Caucus. I don’t think you’d find a majority of support, even a small number of Republicans, voting for any kind of bill that has amnesty first and enforcement second…maybe. So I am not surprised by the report. I suspect it probably is correct, and it also reflects the Speaker’s oft-stated desire that the House will move forward trying to fix our broken immigration system on areas where we have bipartisan agreements. It’s just border security or improved E-verify programs or improved entry/exit visa programs, that those areas should not be held hostage towards a massive, complicated bill like what’s moving through the Senate right now.

GB: All right, Congressman, let me circle back to what you just said, because you said you don’t think that even close to a majority of your caucus, the Republicans in the House, would be able to support or vote for any plan that would put the legalization element first, and then enforcement second -- which is exactly what the Gang of 8 bill spells out. Are you saying that even if some measures are beefed up on the Senate side, if that basic one-two timetable sort of remains in place, it is dead on arrival in the House?

TC: That is my belief, Guy. Now in my short time in Congress, I have found myself wrong in my predictions about what the House would or would not do, but I believe that most House Republicans feel strongly that the basic problem with our immigration system is a failure of enforcement, and that’s not just border security, but internal enforcement through employment verification measures and visa problems and so forth. It’s partly with our, the way we grant visas for legal, permanent residents. You know, it’s focuses less on what it should be, which is skills and jobs and training. And you know, this is reflected by some senators as well. Ted Cruz has said repeatedly in the Judiciary Committee, and now on the Senate floor, that he wants common sense immigration reform to pass, as I think we all do. But the difference between a flawed status quo and an even worse proposed bill means that you should stick with the better of the two outcomes, which would be the flawed status quo than a bill that makes the situation worse.


Note the phrase "even a small number of Republicans" in Cotton's first answer.  If he's accurately assessing the prevailing sentiment among his Republican colleagues, the basic format of the Senate bill would presumably be unacceptable to a substantial portion of the House majority.  So if Boehner sticks to his guns on the 'Hastert rule' here, the 'Gang of Eight' proposal would be dead in the water.  Question: If Senate Democrats and the White House (whose officials are pulling the gang's strings behind the scenes) are genuinely interested in getting a bill passed, why are they reportedly beating up on Marco Rubio for embracing the milquetoast Cornyn amendment?  If the House wants root-and-branch changes to the legalization timetable, Cornyn's plan -- while welcome -- represents something of a bare minimum in terms of increased border security.  If Democrats truly find his proposal as unpalatable as they claim, it's hard to imagine a bicameral, bipartisan compromise heading to the president's desk any time soon.  Two possibilities: (1) Senate Democrats and the administration are happy to let comprehensive reform wither and die in the Republican-held House.  It'll be a legislative defeat, but they'll cheerfully exploit the outcome to further poison the GOP well within the Hispanic community.  Consider this quote from an anonymous White House operative:

"We’re the hammer on the back end. If the Republicans try to scuttle it, we’re the ones who can communicate to the Latino community who scuttled it."

(2)
Democrats are banking on Republicans eventually caving.  Getting back into the good graces of Latinos is a political priority for the GOP (and for good reason), so perhaps Schumer et al may have made the calculation that if they can cobble together a significant bipartisan majority in the upper chamber (say 65- 75 votes), the pressure on the House to act will be immense.  Cotton's temperature gauge may be accurate today, but with a supermajority-passed Senate bill starting them in the face, and a slew of scary polls flying around the media, opposition among the House rank-and-file could begin to crumble.


Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography

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