John Boehner’s Immigration reform balancing act

A few days ago, I noted that the Democrats probably need only about two dozen Republican votes to pass Schumer-Rubio style amnesty legislation in the House. As a practical matter, though, two dozen isn’t the magic number because it’s highly unlikely that the Republican leadership would permit a vote on legislation supported by that few Republican members.

So what is the magic number of House Republicans needed to pass amnesty/path to citizenship legislation? In a sense it is 2, but a very particular 2 — Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor.

Unfortunately, to that extent the fix may truly be in. Speaker Boehner has said that passing immigration reform is a top priority for him. And Eric “Wall Street” Cantor probably perceives an even higher sense of urgency for enacting this pro-business legislation.

But the House leadership is constrained to some degree by the “Hastert Rule” and to a greater degree by practical politics. Under the Hastert Rule, only legislation supported by a majority of the Republican caucus comes to the floor for a vote. In this scenario, the magic number is 117, if I did the math correctly.

The Hastert Rule is not an iron law, however. For example, Boehner waived it on the vote to increase taxes on the well-to-do at the turn of the year.

But the Hastert Rule can only be violated so many times in the name of passing liberal legislation before the risk of a mutiny by House conservatives becomes too high for Boehner and Cantor. Presumably, they wish to continue as House leaders in 2015.

Moreover, Boehner probably sees raising the debt-ceiling as “must-pass” legislation, lest House Republicans be blamed for sinking the economy. Passing such legislation probably entails another major violation of the Hastert Rule.

Thus, Boehner and Cantor must weigh their desire to pass Schumer-Rubio style immigration reform against the need to adhere closely enough to the Hastert Rule to avoid a mutiny.

How do these considerations balance out? I suspect that Boehner/Cantor will be willing to permit such immigration reform legislation to proceed to a vote without half of their caucus on board. But it seems unlikely that they would do so with only a few dozen members in support.

What’s the magic number? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s around 75 or 80, i.e., about one-third of the caucus.

If so, the fix may not yet be in.

This makes it imperative that those of us who oppose amnesty/path to citizenship bombard Republican members with statements of our opposition. For my sense is that one-third of the Republican membership is squishy enough to vote for amnesty/path to citizenship legislation, but that those who make up that one-third are also squishy enough to vote against it in the face of strongly expressed constituent outrage.

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