To be sure, immigration advocates don’t expect House Republicans to sign the discharge petition, which would need perhaps two dozen Republicans to get the 218 votes it needs to force a House vote on immigration reform. Indeed, multiple House Republicans who theoretically support reform have already told Seung Min Kim that they can’t sign a discharge petition, which represents a betrayal of leadership.
Rather, the point here, as I’ve explained before, is to give House Republicans who are inclined to support reform — and feel pressure on the issue from, say, local constituencies who want action — an added incentive to pressure the House GOP leadership internally to move forward with something to take the pressure off of themselves. Jonathan Bernstein has pointed out that a discharge petition gives the press corps a reason to ask why House Republicans who claim to want reform won’t sign it, creating more stories on the issue.
The expected move also suggests Dems are more unified on the issue than in the past. In the lead-up to the 2010 elections, some Dems refrained from supporting immigration reform in the belief that it was so culturally charged that it put them in political peril that year. (Former DCCC chief Rahm Emanuel famously described the issue as a “third rail.”) Now — perhaps in part because of demographic shifts — Dems don’t appear as worried about the cultural and political implications of embracing reform.
“This shows that Democrats are leaning into this issue in a way they weren’t in the past, when they were more divided,” Frank Sharry, the head of pro-immigration America’s Voice, tells me. Outside liberal groups such as CREDO Action had been pressuring House Dem leaders to exercise this tactic.
The expected use of the discharge petition suggests Dems recognize that merely giving House Republican leaders the political space they need to resolve internal conflicts over immigration isn’t going to be enough. However, this growing awareness that the House GOP leadership isn’t going to act could result on more pressure from the left on Obama to use executive authority to ease deportations.
And so moving forward with a discharge petition could give the coalition of interests that want reform a new galvanizing and rallying point — a way to reorient pressure directly on the party that is responsible for blocking reform, i.e., the Republican Party. The question that remains is whether center-right groups aligned with the GOP — the business community, agricultural and tech interests, evangelicals, and members of the GOP consultant class who know postponing reform is folly — will actually bring real pressure to bear on House Republicans who want reform, insisting that they either sign the petition or take meaningful steps to press the GOP leadership to act.