Don't Count on Republicans Being Crafty Enough to Pass Immigration Reform via a Discharge Petition

| Fri Jun. 28, 2013 11:16 AM EDT

It's hard to believe, but after decades of calling the Senate the place legislation goes to die, suddenly the Senate is the place where legislation and compromise are the order of the day. It's the House where legislation goes to die, thanks to the House Republican caucus's near total takeover by its hardcore tea party wing. So does this mean that immigration reform is dead?

That's my guess. But the hot topic lately among the chattering classes is that there's actually a way to force passage: a discharge petition. Steve Benen outlines the theory for us:

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.

Hey, it worked for the Civil Rights Act! Maybe immigration reform is next.

But I'm not a believer. Here's why: it actually makes sense. If Republicans really do want to pass immigration reform just to get it over and done with, but they want to do it without getting their fingerprints all over it, the discharge petition is easily their best bet. As Steve says, all it requires is 20 or 30 Republicans in safe seats to vote for it, while the entire rest of the caucus gets to continue railing against it while secretly breathing a sigh of relief. That's totally logical.

And that's why it won't happen. Logic is simply not the GOP's strong suit these days, and frankly, neither is Machiavellian maneuvering. The only thing they know how to do is yell and scream and hold votes on endless doomed repetitions of bills designed to demonstrate their ideological purity. A different House and a different party leader might be crafty enough to see the value in a discharge petition, but not this one. They're true believers. They won't secretly agree to leave the defectors alone after the vote, which is the minimum necessary for this to work, nor will John Boehner risk telling them secretly that he won't take away their committee assignments or otherwise retaliate against them. The party leadership just doesn't have this level of craftiness in them.

Which is too bad. It's an elegant idea.

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