After listening to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) talk to the media this morning, it's hard to be optimistic about the fate of comprehensive immigration reform. Earlier, I suggested the bipartisan Senate bill still had a real shot, but if Boehner sticks to his current posture, the odds of success are poor.
For those who can't watch clips online, the Speaker specifically told reporters, "I don't see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn't have a majority support of Republicans."
The comments follow a Politicoreport that says Boehner assured conservative lawmakers in a closed-door meeting that he has "no intention of putting a bill on the floor that will violate the principles of our majority and divide our conference."
To put it mildly, this is not what reform proponents wanted to hear. Indeed, Boehner has generally gone out of his way to making statements like these, leaving himself more wiggle room as the strategy comes together.
As we discussed this morning, the fate of the legislation is largely in Boehner's hands -- if the Speaker is prepared to ignore the so-called "Hastert Rule," and rely on Democratic votes to pass the Senate version, then immigration reform would likely prevail. If, however, the Speaker cowered in the face of right-wing threats, and decided to let his members lead him rather than the other way around, then the reform effort would be in deep trouble.
Why does it matter so much that Boehner insists on "majority support of Republicans"? Because if the Speaker intends to prioritize the "majority of the majority" above all other considerations, he'll need most House Republicans to endorse the bipartisan Senate bill.
And that almost certainly isn't going to happen.
Indeed, just two weeks ago, nearly every member of the House Republican caucus voted to deport Dream Act kids. If 221 GOP House members are going to vote this way on an issue that's supposed to be easy, the likelihood that most of the caucus will back comprehensive immigration reform is, at best, remote.
The hope has been that Boehner, perhaps capable of some modicum of leadership, would recognize the best interests of his party, listen to business interests that help guide GOP priorities, and bring the Senate version to the House floor for a vote. This morning, the Speaker plainly conceded he doesn't "see any way" of that happening.
What's more, note that this may yet affect the Senate outcome, too. If you're an on-the-fence Republican senator, tempted to vote for the "Gang of Eight" bill, you're probably going to think twice before backing a bill that the House GOP is going to kill. Boehner's comments, in other words, have the potential to shape the outcome in both chambers.
I don't want to overstate the significance of the Speaker's comments too much, but this is clearly an important setback for the reform effort. The door looked open, but as of this morning, Boehner has started to close it.