As the Senate prepares to vote this week on a bipartisan bill expanding background checks for gun sales, reformers brace for what could be an even tighter vote in the House of Representatives–or worse, no vote at all.
As NBC’s First Read points out, even if the gun control bill–proposed last week by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican–gets the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate without any “poison pill” amendments, the bill may still have to overcome a major legislative hurdle: the so-called Hastert rule–or “majority of the majority” doctrine–which allows the Speaker of the House to block a vote on a bill if the majority of the majority party (in this case, the GOP) does not support it.
Last week, two Republican congressmen, Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas. and Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia, sent a letter to Speaker Boehner asking that he enforce the Hastert rule and not bring up any bill in the House without a majority of the Republican party’s support.
“Under the precedents and traditions of the House, we would ask that no gun legislation be brought to the floor of the House unless it has the support of a majority of our caucus,” wrote Broun and Stockman.
But if history is any indication, this type of Republican pressure will hold little sway over John Boehner, who has broken the Hastert rule five times before as Speaker of the House. “As we’ve seen in the past–with the fiscal-cliff deal and Hurricane Sandy relief–the House is willing to bring legislation to the floor that isn’t supported by a ‘majority of the majority’ if it has garnered 70 or more votes in the Senate,” wrote NBC’s First Read team.
70 votes may not even be necessary, argued Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., on NewsNation Monday. What will matter more to Speaker Boehner in violating the so-called Hastert rule is “whether the political pressure around the country is so great that it would be so damaging to the Republican brand to bottle the bill up in the House,” said Schiff, who cited the recent poll numbers showing nine in ten Americans in favor of expanded background checks. “I think it would be a disaster for Republicans to keep this up, keep this from getting a vote, or trying to add poison pills and kill it.”