On Fox News last night, Sean Hannity talked to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) about the prospects for immigration reform – which Hannity opposed, then supported, then opposed again – and whether GOP leaders would allow a bipartisan bill to be approved with Democratic support. Specifically, the host asked whether Cantor would “insist’ on applying the so-called “Hastert Rule.” The Virginia Republican responded (via Greg Sargent):
“Yes, I absolutely would. I think the Speaker of the House has said the same that he would as well. That is not going to happen.”
In context, “that” refers to the House approving the bipartisan Senate bill, even if most House Republicans opposing it.
This gets back to why I wrote so much about the made-up Hastert Rule as 2013 was getting underway – the more House Republican leaders commit to honoring the standard, the less likely Congress will even try to govern between now and 2015.
To briefly recap for those just joining us, under the Hastert Rule – which isn’t an actual rule – a Republican Speaker of the House is only supposed to bring bills to the floor that most of his own caucus supports (measures that enjoy a “majority of the majority”). The idea is, Republicans shouldn’t even consider bills if they’re dependent on Democratic votes to pass – the real power belongs in the hands of the House GOP’s far-right rank and file.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stuck to the non-binding, informal “rule” in the last Congress, but then started wavering on its utility. In fact, Boehner ignored it four times in four months at the outset of 2013 and went so far as to tell reporters, “Listen, it was never a ‘rule’ to begin with.”
But then the far-right caucus demanded that Boehner and Cantor recommit to the principle, and as is the norm lately, the leaders did what their followers told them to do.
As for why this matters, Cantor’s on-air comments last night suggest a closing window for immigration reform legislation. Either (a) reform supporters find 117 House Republicans who’ll support a bipartisan bill; (b) supporters find 20 House Republicans who’ll sign a discharge petition; (c) Boehner and Cantor break their promise and bring up the Senate bill; or (d) the entire initiative will die at the House Republicans’ hands.
Postscript: In the same Fox interview, Cantor told his national television audience, “[I]f the president can selectively enforce the provision under Obamacare, what’s to say that he can’t selectively enforce or not enforce the provision on border security and the immigration package.”
No, that’s demonstrably wrong. Cantor, despite having a law degree and having been in Congress for more than a decade, doesn’t understand the basics of how the federal system works. I find that alarming.