I’ve been saying since forever that if it ever happens, the way immigration reform eventually passes the House is with a “Hastert Rule” violation — that is, with mostly Democratic votes and with the majority of the GOP voting against it. I’ve also said that reform would only happen if a critical group of mainstream conservatives in the House want it to happen, even if they vote against the bill. That is, I’ve always thought it was extremely unlikely that most Republicans would be willing to vote for comprehensive immigration reform and impossible to imagine John Boehner going against the wishes of his conference — but that it was very plausible that a majority of Republicans in the House would like it to pass.
Part of making that happen, however, is for at least some mainstream conservatives to vote for the thing and to balance off the pressure from those who really don’t want any bill to pass by publicly pushing Boehner to bring it to the House floor. And that’s what’s been missing so far. After all, even if Boehner wants the thing to pass, and even if the overwhelming majority of this conference wants it to pass, it won’t pass unless at least some Republicans are willing to not only support it privately but also vote for it publicly.
Beyond that, Boehner needs at least a little conservative cover to move forward. It’s one thing for him to bring something to the floor that squeaks through with 30 or 40 Republican votes and with dozens of Republican lawmakers loudly denouncing him; it’s another for him to do it if Republican votes and demands are mixed, even if a majority opposes the bill.
To take it one step further, it’s also probably true that a lot of Republicans in the House who know that they’re the ones who are ultimately going to have to vote for immigration reform aren’t going to be very enthusiastic about admitting to that unless they believe that the bill will actually go somewhere. That is, there are very few Republicans who believe it’s in their short-term personal interest to be pro-reform, even if some of them are willing to do it for the party.
In other words, there’s probably more than the usual amount of Kabuki on this one. But the bottom line, as Greg Sargent said yesterday on Twitter: “Bottom line: if House Rs want to get to comprehensive immig reform, the details will fall into place. If not, they won’t.” And they may not! Just don’t assume that what we’re seeing in public is the whole story.