House Dems look to force vote on immigration

Clarissa Martinez de Castro, director of civic engagement and immigration at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), during a news conference on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, March 26, 2014.
Clarissa Martinez de Castro, director of civic engagement and immigration at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), during a news conference on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, March 26, 2014.
It wouldn't take much for Congress to successfully pass comprehensive immigration reform. By most estimates, the popular, bipartisan Senate bill would very likely pass the Republican-led House if only GOP leaders would bring it up for a vote. So far, they've refused.
And with this in mind, House Democrats are launching a discharge petition today, intended to force the issue.

They'll need to get 218 signatures on the petition in order to compel GOP leadership to bring up their legislation, which mirrors the Senate-passed immigration bill, except for some tweaks in the border security language. [...] Democrats will also be touting a Congressional Budget Office report reaffirming that overhauling the nation's immigration system would cut the deficit by about $900 billion over twenty years, a figure that had lawmakers crowing Tuesday.

In theory, this is a pretty straightforward exercise: if 218 House members say they want a vote on the legislation, it will be brought to the House floor for consideration, whether Republican leaders like it or not. The chamber could then work its will with an up-or-down vote.
In practice, this almost certainly won't work. Democrats would need 20 to 25 House Republicans to endorse the strategy -- roughly one-tenth of the House GOP caucus -- but by all appearances, they're going to get zero. Republicans tend to see discharge petitions as a partisan betrayal, so they'll steer clear.
House Dems already know this. Indeed, if there's one unyielding truth in Capitol Hill politics right now, it's that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) knows how to count.
So why bother? Because Democrats see this as part of a larger strategy.
The point is to apply as much election-year pressure as possible on one of the biggest and most impressing issues on the policy landscape. The pending immigration-reform bill has support from the private sector, labor unions, the faith community, immigrant advocates, deficit hawks, and the American mainstream. It passed the Senate easily with bipartisan support, and if given a chance, it'd likely pass the House, too.
Republican leaders in the lower chamber are refusing to act, so the discharge petition is intended to make these political conditions as uncomfortable as possible for the GOP. Greg Sargent reported yesterday:

I'm told immigration advocacy groups and labor have drawn up a target list of around 30 House Republicans who have previously expressed public support for reform and/or a path to citizenship, to be targeted with pressure back home in their districts. Among the Republicans on that list: David Valadao, Jeff Denham, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Joe Heck, Daniel Webster, Aaron Schock, and Kevin McCarthy, who is the third ranking GOP leader but represents a lot of Latinos and has expressed support for legal status.... I'm told that GOP Reps. Mike Coffman and Cory Gardner of Colorado will also be targeted. The latter is particularly interesting because he's running statewide (for Senate).

Again, there's no real expectation that any of these Republicans will actually sign the discharge petition. But its existence will nevertheless apply some leverage.
Let's say you're a mainstream GOP incumbent facing a credible 2014 challenger and you represent a fairly diverse district. When asked, you tell people that you support comprehensive immigration reform and would vote for it, but you also make clear that this isn't your call. After all, you're not the Speaker of the House and you can't dictate what bills reach the floor.
The discharge petition suddenly makes your life a little more complicated. If you sign it, great; reform advocates will be thrilled. But if you don't, it suggests your ostensible support for reform isn't as strong as you'd like voters to believe.
Or worse, it suggests you're willing to put party loyalty above doing the right thing for undocumented immigrants and their families.
All the while, reform proponents have an activism tool to take advantage of and an instrument to rally progressive voters in an election year.
That's why House Democrats are launching this effort, knowing in advance just how poor the odds of success are.