Greg Sargent has been doing great reporting and analysis on immigration, and today he reports on a third Republican Member who has signed on to the House Democrats’ bill.

There are important differences between immigration and the clean CR needed to re-open the government earlier this month, but in many respects the way to look at it is similar. A handful of Republicans willing to go public with their support for comprehensive immigration reform isn’t likely to get a bill to the House floor. Even twenty of them, which would be enough for a House majority (if Democrats are unanimous, which may not be the case) wouldn’t be enough to force Boehner’s hand. It’s easy to imagine two dozen Republicans voting for a comprehensive bill; it’s a lot harder to imagine them breaking with their party on procedural votes (or a discharge petition) to force that bill to the floor.

Which means that it all comes down to the same thing is always has: what do the bulk of mainstream conservatives in the Republican conference really want?

The biggest difference between immigration (and VAWA, on the one hand) and the clean CR a few weeks ago (and the fiscal cliff deal) is that in this case, there is no eventual must-pass situation. So really mainstream conservatives can do whatever they want; the only limitation on them is that if they do want the bill to pass, at least a handful of them may have to actually vote for it. In that sense, a period in which pro-immigration Republicans come out for a bill may be useful, since every one them is one “yes” vote that those who want a bill over their “no” vote do not have to supply.

And remember: if there is a fairly large group who wants a bill to pass over their public opposition, they’re hardly going to tell reporters that they’re in it. Since that sort of defeats the purpose. So both the group who sincerely opposes it and almost all of the group who actually wants it to pass are going to tell the press that they oppose it. Right up to the point where it passes. If it does!

In other words, we’re back to where we’ve been on this all year: we really don’t know whether the bill is dead or undead. It all depends on what mainstream conservatives want, and while they may tell Republican leadership, they probably aren’t going to tell the press.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein

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