By any fair assessment, comprehensive immigration reform faces very long odds in the Republican-led House. The bipartisan Senate compromise was approved with relative ease, but in the lower chamber, the hurdles may prove to be insurmountable.
But reform isn’t dead just yet. The House’s “Gang of Seven” continues to work on a proposal; some key Republican leaders are leaving the door ajar on a pathway to citizenship; and House Democratic leaders still have a procedural tactic in mind that offers promise.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told donors at an Organizing for Action event Monday night that Democratic leadership in the House was weighing a discharge petition that would bring the Senate immigration bill directly to the floor for a vote.
Pelosi was asked about the legislative strategy during a dinner with about 70 supporters of the advocacy group, which grew out of the president’s re-election campaign. She said leadership was still deciding to press forward with the legislative maneuver, noting that doing so would take 30 legislative days.
As a fan of this idea, I’m glad Pelosi still has her eyes on it.
To recap for those just joining us, generally the only bills that reach the House floor for a vote are the ones House leaders support (or at least tolerate). But if 218 members – regardless of party – sign a discharge petition, their preferred legislation is brought up for a vote whether the majority party’s leadership likes it or not.
In the case of immigration reform, there are 201 Democrats in the House caucus. If literally all of them are prepared to support the bipartisan Senate bill, they would need 17 House Republicans – just 7% of the 231 GOP House members – to join them on the discharge petition. If, say, 10 conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats from Southern states balked, they would need 27 Republicans to break party ranks.
How realistic is this scenario? At least on paper, I still believe it’s not that far-fetched.
As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, there are 38 House Republicans whose districts have a significant number of Latino voters, who won’t want to be punished if their party is responsible for killing reform. What’s more, according to National Review, there are as many as 40 House Republicans who consider themselves moderates, unhappy with their party’s far-right direction. We can assume there’s a fair amount of overlap between these two groups, but either way, the point is the same: if reform proponents need 20 or so House GOP members who’d like to see immigration reform pass, they exist.
The fact that this is clearly on the House Democrats’ radar is a good sign. Indeed, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) talked to Dylan Matthews at length yesterday about the policy fight – Gutierrez is a long-time proponent of reform and is part of the “Gang of Seven” talks – and didn’t rule out the discharge-petition possibility. He suggested it might end up applying to the House compromise instead of the Senate bill, but the point remains the same.
I don’t want to give the impression that the odds for immigration reform are necessarily improving. Given House Speaker John Boehner’s (R) weakness, his reluctance to lead, and his inability to persuade his own members, passage remains a longshot.
But there are avenues to success. They’re narrow and hard to navigate, but they exist.