Speaker John A. Boehner looked to cut off a budding revolt Tuesday when he told his fellow Republicans that he couldn’t see a way to bring a bill to the floor without majority GOP support — a move that alarmed Democrats and appeared to shrink the chances of a bill reaching the president’s desk.
Boehner’s move was just one of many scenes from a day fraught with peril and promise for an immigration overhaul — from a vote to make illegal immigrants criminals in the House Judiciary Committee to a Congressional Budget Office score that found the Senate bill would cut the deficit by about $900 billion over the next 20 years.
‘Hastert Rule’ Showdown
Boehner has been coming under pressure in the past week over the “Hastert rule,” the practice of only bringing legislation to the floor that a majority of the majority supports, with an insurgent band of Republicans looking to codify the rule backed by a host of conservative advocacy groups.
The rule push took on added urgency in the Republican Conference given Boehner’s unwillingness last week to publicly say he would not break the rule to pass immigration. Over the weekend, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher added fuel to the fire by saying Boehner should lose his speakership if he didn’t abide by the Hastert rule on immigration.
By Tuesday morning’s conference meeting, Boehner was in damage control mode.
Asked whether the California Republican was right about a revolt that could cost him his speakership, Boehner paused.
“Maybe,” he quipped, to perhaps nervous laughter in the room.
“I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have a majority support of Republicans,” Boehner declared.
His remark seemed just shy of a vow to stick to the Hastert rule. He also did not answer a question on whether he would require a majority of the majority on a final conference report on an immigration bill. (A GOP aide later clarified that Boehner’s remarks did apply to a conference report as well.)
‘Alarming’ Development for Democrats
Sen. Robert Menendez, a member of the bipartisan Senate “gang of eight,” questioned Boehner’s commitment to an immigration overhaul after the comment.
“It is amazing and alarming that Speaker Boehner would allow a minority of House members — who will never, ever support immigration reform — to dictate the fate of bipartisan, comprehensive reform that an overwhelming majority of the American people want,” the New Jersey Democrat said.
Democratic leaders meanwhile figure Boehner will be under enormous pressure to act once the Senate moves its bill — regardless of the Hastert rule.
“No matter what he has said, there’s going to be significant national pressure on the House to do something on immigration,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer noted that Republican leaders frequently say they will “let the House work its will.”
“They either mean it or they don’t mean it, they’re either hypocrites or they’re not,” the Maryland Democrat said. “They want the House to work its will [and] the only way to have the House work its will is to have matters put on the floor for consideration and votes.”
Advocates for the bill cheered the knockout CBO score, which found the bill would reduce the deficit by $197 billion in the first decade and about $700 billion in the second decade.
“This debunks the idea that immigration reform is anything other than a boon to our economy, and robs the bill’s opponents of one of their last remaining arguments,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the gang of eight.
Markup Splits Parties
A markup in the House Judiciary Committee on legislation that would crack down on illegal immigration — and make illegal immigrants criminals subject to prison time — sparked an outcry from Democrats.
The panel backed a provision by Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., that would make being an illegal immigrant a crime punishable by up to six months in prison on a first offense. Other provisions considered by the committee would empower state and local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws.
Outside the markup, Democrats led by Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill., held a news conference flanked by a few dozen Latino youths wearing caps and gowns and holding signs reading “I Am Not A Criminal” and “American Dreamer.”
“Don’t allow the partisan bickering and fighting, the debate on Benghazi and the IRS, the debate over the AP and whether we should be in Syria or not, to somehow sneak its way into the well that we have kept so clean . . . when it comes to pursuing comprehensive immigration reform,” said Gutierrez, who is part of a bipartisan group of seven House members working to come up with draft legislation.
Still, Gutierrez said he and the 25 members — all Democrats — of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are also looking forward to their meeting Wednesday with Boehner, to discuss their vision of the immigration rewrite, an event he described as “highly unusual.”
The tense markup itself was interrupted by roughly 20 protesters standing and chanting “shame, shame, more of the same.”
Members of the group wore sheets of paper pinned to their shirts bearing the phrase “Remember November,” seemingly a nod to the 2012 presidential election in which President Barack Obama handily won the Hispanic vote.
The protesters were escorted from the room by committee staff and the Capitol Police but were met with cheers as they filed into the hallway. And the group could still be heard outside the room saying, “Si, se puede” and the English translation, “Yes, we can,” prompting Goodlatte to briefly suspend committee activity.
Senate Stuck on Border Security
The Senate continued its search for a border security compromise that would help bring aboard Republican votes and win a big Senate majority for that chamber’s bill by the July Fourth break.
Several border-security-related amendments were defeated Tuesday afternoon.
Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander was among the Republican senators hoping to get a deal — adding that a border security agreement would be key to getting his vote. “My own view is the best thing for senators to do is to do our job — and then send the thing over to the House and let them do their job. So, I don’t worry about it, and I don’t think most of us do,” Alexander told reporters about the action on the other side of the Dome. “We’ve been presented with an opportunity to end de facto amnesty, to create a legal immigration system, and secure the border and if we can do that, we should do that it — and we should do it in the next two weeks.”
Niels Lesniewski and Joanna Anderson contributed to this report.