The headline-grabbing debate over immigration reform is happening in the Senate this week, as the entire body debates a series of amendments to the comprehensive legislation passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. There is a very real chance that reform could die there—if, for example, Senator John Cornyn’s border security amendment passes, the bill might become unsupportable for many Democrats.
But lurking in the background is an even more difficult fight in the House, where the Republican caucus is much more hostile to reform. House members are beholden to smaller, more conservative districts, and there are no leaders calling for reform analogous to Republicans Marco Rubio and John McCain in the Senate.
This week began with some promising signs from the office of House Speaker John Boehner. For months, he said virtually nothing about his strategy for passing immigration reform—not even whether one existed—but Politico reported Monday that “privately, the Ohio Republican is beginning to sketch out a road map to try to pass some version of an overhaul in his chamber.” The next morning, during an ABC News interview, Boehner hinted that he might allow an immigration bill to pass the House with a majority of Democratic votes, thereby abandoning the so-called “Hastert rule.”
Without question, that was tremendous news for proponents of immigration reform. But don’t think conservatives opposed to any legislation didn’t notice—and the first unified effort by anti-immigration House members might have now begun.
Thursday morning, Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze had the exclusive news that seventy members of the House GOP “are planning a politically risky showdown” with Boehner. Led by Representatives Steve King, Michele Bachmann and Louie Gohmert, the group is demanding two things from Boehner: (1) a special Republican conference meeting about immigration, and (2) a promise to be true to the Hastert Rule.
The caucus meeting could be perilous for Boehner—his strategy of keeping the House at a very low temperature and mollifying, at least for now, the hardline anti-immigration members couldn’t survive a head-to-head confrontation. Boehner would have to address their Hastert rule request directly. (Note, too, that conservative activists also began pressuring Boehner on the Hastert rule this week—the heads of the Club for Growth, Heritage Action, the American Conservative Union and the Family Research Council sent Boehner a letter on Tuesday demanding he never stray from the Hastert rule again.)
Boehner could of course ignore their request for a meeting, but that’s a somewhat unattractive option as well. [UPDATE: Boehner announced late Thursday that on July 10, there will be a caucus-wide meeting on immigration. It’s not immediately clear if he was acting in response to the conservative push, nor whether they will insist on meeting sooner.] The Blaze report said the letter will arrive in Boehner’s office on Friday.