June 18, 2013
House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) (Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) (Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) says that he’s going to wait for an immigration bill, or maybe several bills, to emerge from the House Judiciary Committee; take what results to the House floor; pass what they have; and go to conference. That’s “regular order,” the rally cry of House conservatives who are (or at least say they are) worried that Boehner will bring up a Senate-passed bill and allow it to go through the Senate with mostly Democratic votes.

The chances of making all this work, however, remain slim. And perhaps moving rapidly towards “none.”

That’s the message from today’s news that Louie Gohmert and Steve King may try to block action in Judiciary — even on “tough borders” legislation that they support. Why? Because the logical last step of that regular order procedure, they fear, would be bringing a bill back from conference and then passing it with mostly Democratic votes after all.

Yes, that’s pretty much nuts. If Boehner and mainstream conservatives in the House Republican conference are willing to pass a bill with citizenship, then a House-Senate conference committee would at least make the bill closer to the House position than whatever passes the Senate, so preventing a conference just means that if a bill does pass, it would be even worse for Gohmert and his allies.

Nevertheless, if that’s Gohmert’s plan, it’s pretty much the death of any GOP-only bill getting through the House. The numbers are pretty clear: without Democrats, Gohmert and King need only collect 15 more members to block any bill.

The truth is that it’s fairly hard to see any majority for action on immigration in the House except for a mostly-Democrats bill similar to what the Senate is doing. That’s why Greg Sargent and I have been arguing that if something is going to pass, it will have to be over the votes of most House Republicans — but that it will only happen if some of them want a bill as long as they don’t have to vote for it.

In that scheme, “regular order” involving an initial vote for a House version of an immigration bill, presumably without citizenship, gives additional cover for conservatives. They would be able to say not only that they voted against the eventual (citizenship) law, but also that they passed a perfectly good bill out of the House before they were sold out by the Senate, President Obama and Boehner. Or, if they wind up pulling the plug, then they can claim (for whatever it’s worth) that they really did try to pass something, and that blame for the eventual failure should belong to the Democrats. Or at least that it should be shared.

It only works, however, if they can actually move complex legislation through the House, and that’s not exactly this group’s long suit.

Perhaps Gohmert and the other radicals will back off. Or perhaps there’s some formula for getting a bill with a slim majority of Republicans on board with enough additional Democrats to make it work, although it’s not clear what that would look like.

But I still think it’s going to be very hard to find a majority for anything except something very close to the current Senate bill. If so, that’s what House Republicans will eventually have to either bring up and have pass, or take the heat for killing it.