House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was asked yesterday about the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform in his chamber. "It's not about what I want. It's about what the House wants," Boehner said, adding, "We're gonna let the House work its will."
For the right, that's a problem. Conservatives don't want the House to simply work its will; they want House Republicans to work their will. Because if it's simply a matter of what bills can get 218 votes, then immigration reform has a real shot -- there are 201 Democrats in the chamber, and a few dozen House Republicans who'd probably join the minority in passing a bill.
And so, it once again may come down to the so-called "Hastert Rule," which prominent conservative leaders have begun lobbying on.
The Conservative Action Project on Tuesday afternoon circulated a letter to House Republican lawmakers co-signed by dozens of influential movement leaders, urging them to formally adopt the "Hastert Rule." [...]Calling it "one way past Speakers ... ensured that Republicans stayed true to their mandate," the letter's co-signers expressed dismay that under Boehner's leadership, the GOP House leaders have lined up bills that "threaten to divide Republicans and in doing so empower the liberal minority of the House."
The Conservative Action Project apparently includes Club for Growth President Chris Chocola, Heritage Action for America CEO Mike Needham, and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, each of whom believes the far-right wing of the Republican Party has a "mandate from the American people" -- despite those pesky election results and all of the polling data to the contrary.
The letter from the Project also relied on a Star Trek-like split infinitive: "We are writing you today to encourage you to boldly use your majority not only to present a positive conservative vision, but also as the last backstop against the worst excesses of liberalism and Washington deal-making."
This may seem like the height of inside baseball -- we're talking about whether a House Speaker will honor an obscure and unwritten procedural standard -- but I continue to believe the "Hastert Rule" will be critically important in the coming months.
To reiterate what we discussed in April, under the "Hastert 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. Boehner stuck to the non-binding, informal "rule" in the last Congress, but the right is starting to panic a bit because it's unclear if the Speaker will continue to do so in this Congress.
Conservative concerns are often rooted in paranoia, but in this case, their fears are well grounded -- Boehner has ignored the non-binding, informal "rule" four times this year, and explained a couple of months ago, "Listen, it was never a rule to begin with." The comment only reinforced the impression that the Speaker is not inclined to let this guideline dictate his actions.
It's no doubt why the Conservative Action Project is feeling antsy.
When it comes to immigration reform, arguably nothing matters more. Rank-and-file House Republicans are not going to support a comprehensive bill -- they've said so repeatedly and there's every reason to believe they mean it. As such, if immigration reform passes the Senate, Boehner will either ignore the "Hastert Rule" (in which case success is possible) or he'll honor it (in which case the bill is probably doomed).