House of Mystery

Don’t believe anyone who says they know how immigration reform will play out in the House.

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Welcome to the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform home stretch (for now anyway). The unveiling of the Hoeven-Corker border security amendment seems to have buried the remaining GOP fence-sitters' qualms under a pile of money, and talk of 70 Senate yeses has restarted, setting up a new battle in the House. With an eye on that front, Greg Sargent asks (and answers) the key question: Is John Boehner really willing to kill immigration reform?

Boehner last week went out of his way to say that he won't let any immigration bill come to the floor that lacks the magical majority-of-the-majority, invoking the so-called "Hastert Rule." And given that most observers agree that a majority of the House majority opposes a pathway to citizenship, the Senate's immigration bill seems to be a nonstarter in the lower chamber.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]

Of course, as I wrote in my column for U.S. News Weekly last week:

What else was Boehner going to say? Indicating otherwise would have undercut his chamber's negotiating position, not to mention his own standing within his conference. This wouldn't be the first time that Boehner has used his colleagues' conservative recalcitrance to pull the debate further to the right. (Recall the once and future debt ceiling crises.) And it also won't be the first time he's heard rumbles on the right questioning his loyalty to the cause, with the latest coming from California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher who called for Boehner's removal if he violates the Hastert Rule on this issue.

Weigel makes another good point, which is that it's hard to get a read on House immigration reform politics right now because the debate hasn't been engaged there. With the focus in the Senate, the immigration reform critics have had free run in the House. After this week, that'll change.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Weigel writes:

…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 House 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.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

He's right about the establishment. Keep in mind that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Sunday launched a seven-figure television ad buy on the topic. And as I write this, an email came in from the American Conservative Union with a dozen conservative leaders, including ACU Chairman Al Cardenas, supporting the Hoeven-Corker amendment.

Pro-reform forces – including Republicans who want to simply stop the political bleeding on the issue – don't need to win the GOP's immigration civil war; they only need to fight it to a draw. They need to create enough countervailing pressure that members, including Boehner, have room to maneuver and feel that if something passes with a majority of House Republicans opposing it, the support they get will neutralize the base backlash.

Will that happen? As Weigel observes we just don't know. Stay tuned.