April 12, 2013
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

There’s been a lot of good stuff out there recently about the “Hastert Rule,” and I’ve contributed to it, but perhaps there’s a clearer way to understand what it all means for any gun bill and any immigration bill which survives the Senate.

1. There are some small number of true believers in the House, probably a couple dozen or so. They’re irrelevant to the fate of any gun or immigration bill, other than setting the context that a GOP-only bill on many subjects can’t pass the House (because that group won’t vote for it)

2. There are also some small number of relative moderates in the House on any issue who want to see a bill pass and would be willing to vote for it. They’re irrelevant, too. It’s not really even important whether that group plus Democrats who support a bill make up a majority in the House.

3. That leaves the bulk of the mainstream conservatives in the House Republican conference. They’re the ones who matter. Basically, if they want a bill to pass, it will be brought to the floor and pass; if not, not.

What’s important to realize about that large group of mainstream conservatives is that whether or not they want a bill to pass is, for the most part, a completely different question than whether they want to vote for it. Indeed: It’s almost certainly the case that some of the mainstream conservatives who voted against the Violence Against Women Act wanted it to pass, mainly to remove it from the congressional and electoral agenda long before the next election. For that matter, it’s a separate question from whether they actually support the bill (but are driven to vote against their preferences by political considerations).

What we don’t know, yet, is whether the bulk of this group would rather see the gun and immigration bills pass or not. Unfortunately, few Republicans are likely to go on record saying that they want a bill to pass but don’t want to be on record voting for it! But whether we find out what they want or figure out where their incentives lie or not, that’s the group that matters. If they want a bill (and assuming something gets through the Senate, which may or may not happen), then Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will put it on the House floor and it will pass. If they don’t want a bill, then it will die.

All the rest of it is coordination and bluster. The bluster will be interesting, and the coordination difficult; after all, it’s very possible that there will be more members who want the bill to pass than there are members who want to vote for it, and there may be a lot of jockeying around and bluffing in order to get others to take the plunge. But that’s all it is. We’ll get a gun bill and an immigration bill if those bills get through the Senate and the bulk of mainstream Republican conservatives in the House want a bill, and that’s the real story.