John Boehner and Gang Politics

Those looking down the road to the eventual disposition of immigration legislation may envision some Senate-driven bipartisan “momentum” that gets the job done. But aside from the many obstacles to the Gang of Eight’s handiwork in the Senate itself (where again, only 41 votes are needed to kill it all), the situation in the House looks plenty dicey. Check out this report from Roll Call‘s Jonathan Strong (who presumably knows intra-Republican politics from his background at the Daily Caller, where he exposed the Journolist conspiracy in which I was heavily involved):

Two immigration trains have left the station in the House, but no one knows which one Speaker John A. Boehner wants to eventually arrive on the floor.

A secretive bipartisan working group — akin to the Senate-side “gang of eight” — is trying to finalize its “comprehensive” proposal. But House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte is flexing his muscles by launching a piecemeal-type legislative push, causing tension between the two factions and questions about who will take the lead.

Lawmakers and aides involved in the secret bipartisan group privately warn that Goodlatte could potentially blow up the push for an immigration bill in the House.

But immigration is under the Judiciary Committee’s purview, and moving the bill through the panel is part of the “regular order” Republicans have been clamoring for.

It is precisely the fear of “secretive bipartisan working groups” that led to the clamor for “regular order” among House Republicans, and also to Boehner’s bizarre pledge never to negotiate with the president again. So the scenario of the House accepting some Senate-brokered immigration deal from on high almost definitely involves the butchering of two major conservative sacred cows: “regular order” and also the Hastert Rule, whereby bills not enjoying majority support in the House Republican Conference should not be brought to the floor, particularly over the dead body of the Republican-controlled committee system. Boehner’s past violations of the Hastert Rule are a big part of the fragility of his hold on the speakership.

But if House Republicans do follow “regular order” and/or try to craft a bill a majority of GOPers can support, the Judiciary Committee could represent a very big problem:

The bipartisan group {i.e., the House Gang] has briefed Goodlatte and Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee that deals with immigration, sources said, but it does not appear the two parties are working closely together.

The Judiciary panel includes a number of very conservative members who might vigorously object to anything approaching “amnesty” for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States.

Those include Reps. Steve King of Iowa, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Jim Jordan of Ohio, J. Randy Forbes of Virginia and the committee’s former chairman, Lamar Smith of Texas.

For example, Smith said in an interview that he was deeply and irrevocably opposed to the bipartisan Senate immigration bill unveiled recently.

“I don’t think I’m ever gonna have a vote on it. I don’t think it gets out of the Senate, and it certainly wouldn’t pass over here,” he said.

Gowdy (a Tea Party stalwart from SC), Smith, King, Gohmert, Jordan (chair of the right-wing Republican Study Committee) and Forbes are not among those likely to give a damn about the belief of Republican elites that getting on the comprehensive immigration reform bandwagon and taking the GOP all the way back to where it was in the Bush administration is a political imperative. If you are handicapping the likely outcome of the immigration debate in Congress, take a long look at those names, consider the itch between Boehner’s shoulder blades, and bet low.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.