Can We Find a House Majority on Immigration?

The news on immigration is John Boehner rejecting the option of passing a bill with mostly Democratic votes. Or so he says; Jonathan Chait points out that Boehner’s position makes him prone to bluffing. But for now:

“I just don’t think that’s the winning formula here,” Cole told The Washington Examiner. “What the speaker wants to do is have a hopefully bipartisan product — certainly one that has the majority of Republicans — pass the House. This has got too much emotional, political impact and I think it really has to be genuinely bipartisan.”

I’m sure that the Speaker wants a “bipartisan product.”

I just don’t see how it happens.

As Greg Sargent explains today, there’s really “no papering over” the key question: is there a (real) path to citizenship, or not?

If there is, then it’s virtually certain that the majority of House Republicans will oppose. If not, it’s virtually certain that an overwhelming majority of House Democrats will oppose.

That, it seems to me, is obvious and easy. The more complicated question is whether there’s any House majority at all behind anything.

Is there a GOP-only majority? I really doubt it. There are 234 Republicans right now, so if they lose more than 16 they will need help from the Democrats. It’s possible that the whole GOP conference can be rallied to support something, but it’s clearly hard work. I’m pretty convinced that there are at least 20 Republicans who would only support immigration-bashing measures, and also at least 20 Republicans who are pro-immigration. As far as I can tell, the only way something gets 218 Republicans is if they wind up putting the value of proving they can pass something ahead of their policy positions, and I’m not sure why they would want to do that.

What about a mostly-Republican bill? I’d love to see some reporting on where the remaining “Blue Dog” Democrats are on this. It seems (at least based on what we’re seeing in the Senate) that most or all of them would support a comprehensive bill, but they could support, say, a border-security-only bill and still say they were for comprehensive reform. On the other hand, they would be getting on the wrong side of Latino groups — and, remember, the wrong side of business. My guess, and it’s completely just a guess, is that it’s going to be very, very difficult to find a mostly-Republicans majority.

In other words, the reason I’ve been saying that Boehner would eventually have to decide whether to move bill with mostly Democratic votes is because I don’t really think he has another option. Not just for something that could become law, but for anything to get through the House at all.

That could be wrong! A GOP-only bill is possible if Republicans agree to ignore their policy preferences for a while in order to get the “narrative” victory of passing something. A GOP-mostly bill is possible if a fair number of Democrats who would vote for a comprehensive bill would also vote for a GOP-written bill without citizenship. I don’t think those votes are there, but I could easily be wrong about it. Note, however, that even if they are, that just gets something to conference…actually getting something enacted into law just gets them back to the original question, because it’s pretty certain that nothing becomes law without citizenship. And, once again, most Republicans are not going to vote for citizenship.

All of which gets back to my initial sense that the question is all about whether House Republicans want a comprehensive bill to become law, or not. If not, Boehner won’t bring it up, and it’s dead. If so, Boehner will bring it up, and it probably has the votes (with, that is, a fairly large group quietly wanting that solution even as they vote against it and very likely denounce Boehner publicly for doing what they want him to do).

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.