So Much for Big Mo on Immigration

Just a few days after the unveiling of the Corker-Hoeven “border surge” amendment conjured up excited conjecture that the Gang of Eight Bill would roll to victory with more than 70 votes and compel House Republicans to go along in a huge wave of “momentum,” the Big Mo seems to be slipping. At least two Republican senators who voted for Corker-Hoeven have signaled they are voting against the bill itself, and a couple of other fence-sitters are reported to be leaning the same way. The number of senators voting with the majority on a procedural vote today dropped to 67.

So at this point you’d probably guess Republican senators will split 13-23 on final passage of the Gang of Eight legislation. It doesn’t quite make sense that on the basis of this ringing endorsement a majority of House Republicans would go along with letting John Bohner ignore the Hastert Rule and cooperate in enacting anything Senate Democrats would accept. Greg Sargent sums up the most likely options for House Republicans at this point, even if you accept they are willing to go along with any legislation creating a path to citizenship:

Either House Republicans pass something that includes citizenship and hard border triggers, and we head into conference negotiations in which Dems will never accept those hard triggers. If conference produced something short of those hard triggers, then according to Boehner and Drucker’s reporting, a majority of House Republicans couldn’t support it, and there would be no vote on it. And reform would die.

Or, alternatively, the House passes nothing. Since a majority of House Republicans won’t support the Senate bill, according to Boehner and [Washington Examiner reporter David] Drucker’s reporting, that means the House leadership wouldn’t allow a vote on that, either. And reform would die.

In any event, Sargent reminds us, Boehner does have a third option, though he seems to be going out of his way to reassure his colleagues he won’t take it:

Reform may not get a vote in the House, and it may die. But that should not obscure the fact that it doesn’t have to. Boehner does have the option of allowing reform to pass with mostly Dems; at the end of the day, there will be a bill that has a majority of the House behind it, even if it isn’t backed by a majority of House Republicans. Which is to say that even if the GOP base succeeds in forcing House Republicans to oppose reform, or to demand triggers that are so onerous that it drives away Democrats, that outcome doesn’t have to kill reform’s prospects.

Reform only dies if Boehner allows it to. Now, Boehner may decide this is the best possible outcome for himself and for Republicans alike. But let’s not pretend this would be anything but a choice on his part.

Regular readers know how likely I think it is that Boehner will risk his Speakership over this bill, or even that House Republicans privately want it to pass (I’m not sure most of them even care about the Latino vote). Yeah, a lot of business lobbyists want it to pass for their own reasons, and some GOP political strategists would like to see some heavy Republican fingerprints on an enacted bill, or at least get the issue off the front burner before 2014. I just don’t think that’s enough to support a deliberate dive-taking by House Republicans on legislation “the base” passionately opposes. But Greg’s right: it’s a conscious decision either way.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.