IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Immigration reform's path to 218 House votes

Associated Press

With the kind of efficiency and competence we're not accustomed to seeing on Capitol Hill, the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform fairly easily yesterday, despite the opposition of most of the chamber's Republicans. It was one of those rare instances in which a bipartisan group of lawmakers crafted a plan, stuck to it, and it actually worked.

But as is painfully obvious, the House of Representatives, led by a radicalized Republican majority that's openly hostile towards immigration, will be a far more difficult hurdle.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), unable to lead his own members, has already said he will not allow the Senate bill to receive a vote. Indeed, he's vowed not to bring any comprehensive immigration reform bill to the House floor unless most of his caucus gives him permission to do so -- which would suggest that reform advocates, thrilled by yesterday's success in the Senate, start dramatically lowering their expectations.

That said, all hope is not lost, at least not yet. There are three scenarios, some of which are realistic than others, which suggest reform still has a pulse, despite right-wing objections.

First, Boehner may be bluffing. The Speaker has vowed to stick to the so-called "Hastert Rule," which is a made-up procedural standard, but he's changed his mind about this before. Indeed, Boehner has a habit of saying lots of things, only to change course later. It's true that on immigration, he hasn't left himself a lot of wiggle room, but he's also publicly endorsed a comprehensive solution to the nation's broken immigration system, suggesting he doesn't want to see the entire effort die, especially at his hands.

Second, the House might pass an alternative. The House GOP strongly objects to the Senate bill, for reasons that aren't entirely clear, but the lower chamber could, in theory, pass a related bill and send the whole thing to a conference committee. There's a bipartisan "gang" in the House that swears it's nearly done with a bill, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has a plan of his own in mind. If the House can get its act together and pass something, a worthwhile package may yet emerge from bicameral talks.

Which leads us to my preferred option...

... there's always a discharge petition. As a rule, the only bills that reach the House floor for a vote are the ones House leaders allow to reach the floor. But there's an exception: if 218 members sign a discharge petition, their preferred legislation is brought up for a vote whether the majority party's leadership likes it or not.

In terms of specific numbers, there are 201 Democrats in the House caucus. If literally all of them are prepared to support the bipartisan Senate bill, they would need 17 House Republicans -- just 7% of the 231 GOP House members -- to join them on the discharge petition. If, say, 10 conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats from Southern states balked, they would need 27 Republicans to break party ranks.

Just last week, we were told they were as many as 40 House Republicans who consider themselves moderates, unhappy with their party's far-right direction. Is there a chance half of these alleged centrists might sign a discharge petition and get immigration reform done? Sure there is.

The odds aren't great, but don't let all the "D.O.A." talk convince you the reform fight is already over.