Immigration reform advocates seemed to get some good news yesterday when Think Progress posted video of GOP Rep. Paul Ryan at a town meeting making an interesting claim: He seemed tos uggest said House Republicans were going to hold votes on immigration reform measures without knowing whether they were supported by a majority of Republicans.

That would improve immigration reform’s prospects. It would mean Republicans are not wedded to that “Hastert Rule” (which, by the way, is fictional), making it more likely that reform provisions would get votes and pass, which in turn could get us to conference negotiations between the House and Senate.

Unfortunately, in response to my question, a spokesman for Ryan reiterated that the House GOP would adhere to the Hastert Rule — again putting us back where we were before.

In the video, Ryan is asked by a constituent whether Republicans will “bring forward”  anything that doesn’t have support from a majority of the majority. He replies: “Bringing these bills to the floor, we’ll find out. It is not, `they don’t come to the floor unless we have a majority of the majority,’ because we don’t know if we have a majority if we vote on it.”

Ryan adds that Republicans will only vote on reform in pieces, but even so, if one of the pieces voted on included citizenship, getting these votes would improve comprehensive reform’s chances.

But when I asked a Ryan spokesperson for clarification, I got back this:

Congressman Ryan reiterated what Speaker Boehner has made clear: The House will consider only those immigration reforms that garner a majority of House Republicans. His comments reflect the fact that it’s often difficult to determine how members will vote on a proposal until it’s considered on the House floor.

It looks as if Ryan’s original comments were garbled; he was referring to the measure coming to the floor, not getting a full vote. Oh, well.

All of this has broader significance, because it goes to a core question that could determine immigration reform’s prospects: Will Paul Ryan lead on the issue?

Ryan is in a very good position to do just that. He plainly wants a bill to pass and he is broadly respected as a leadership figure by conservatives in the caucus. If he wants to, he’ll presumably be able to influence how the House handles a number of upcoming questions: Will the emerging House gang of seven bill — which is to the right of the Senate bill but also includes citizenship — ever get a full vote, even though it’s comprehensive and not piecemeal? Will something that emerges out of conference get a vote, even if a majority of Republicans does not publicly support it? What about the Senate bill? If all else fails, will it be allowed to come to the floor without the backing of a majority of the majority?

Right now — at least  publicly — Ryan is not willing to break with the make-believe Hastert Rule. Which obviously doesn’t improve reform’s chances.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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