Published on:

The ‘Majority’s Majority’ and Immigration Reform

Don’t repress the memory of this October’s partial shutdown of the federal government just yet because we need to talk about the Hastert Rule and the chances it will be implemented in the reoccurring debate on immigration reform!

First, a recap of the events: leading up to and during the shutdown, media outlets and members of Congress referred ad nauseam to “the Hastert Rule” each time Senators and Democratic Representatives urged Speaker Boehner to allow a vote on a clean continuing resolution to continue funding the government. As you probably know by now (especially after October’s intense sixteen day review of your AP government class), the Hastert Rule is an unofficial rule by which the Speaker of the House only permits legislation to come up for a vote if a majority of the party in control of the House of Representatives agrees to support the bill. Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, for whom the rule is named, used the phrase “a majority of the majority” to describe the number of his caucus required to support a bill before scheduling a vote.

The utility of this “rule” is two-fold: 1) The Speaker who institutes the rule bows to the demands of a majority of his or her party, thereby retaining an approval rating from more than 50% of the party caucus and securing his or her control of the speakership after the debate; and 2) The Speaker is able to stifle the opposition party’s legislative agenda and ensure that none of its bills comes to the floor for a vote.

Déjà vu?

With the government shutdown behind us, and the various deadlines in place for the next economic showdowns (read: crises), focus has returned to Comprehensive Immigration Reform (“CIR”). Remember that back in June the Senate passed a sweeping bipartisan immigration bill (68-32) that tackles a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants and measures to increase border security, along with a number of other reforms. President Obama and Speaker Boehner have iterated that they believe CIR can be passed before the end of the year. However, June’s fault line disagreements between Senate and House approaches to CIR are already starting to show tension again.

The Senate asserts that its bipartisan bill, written by the “Gang of Eight” (four democrats and four republicans), should be taken up by the House as is immediately because it has achieved already the compromise (read: massive failures to disappoint each party equally) needed to pass muster in a Congress seemingly paralyzed by partisanship. Meanwhile, some House Republicans think CIR would be more likely to pass in its chamber if it were broken up into smaller, bite-sized (fun-sized?) pieces. Also, remember that many Conservatives refuse to back any notion of a pathway to citizenship; therefore, by breaking the omnibus bill into its constituent reforms, Conservatives can skip the pathway and take the shortcut to enacting the border security measures–their top immigration priority.

A Legislation’s Tale: Back and Forth, Again

Even though both the President and Speaker Boehner have affirmed passing some kind of reformed immigration policy by the end of the year, one House Republican who supports CIR thinks that the contentious shutdown debacle has soured any hope for immigration reform. Raul Labrador (R-ID), quoted in a Politico piece, said, “If the president is going to show the same kind of good faith effort that he’s shown in the last couple of weeks, I think it would be crazy for House Republican leadership to enter into negotiations with him on immigration.” Sigh. So, no immigration reform by year’s end? If Congressman Labrador is any barometer…probably not.

Further complicating the House’s immigration chances are instances in which Senate Republicans might try to lobby House Conservatives to ignore the Senate Bill and demand the President and Senate to concede to their reform initiatives, a la Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) during the shutdown. Already, Sen. Marco Rubio (one of the original Gang of 8) is distancing himself from Senate immigration bill seemingly gearing up for a strategy from the Cruz playbook.

Winter of Discontent…and Uncertainty

Back in June, Speaker Boehner asserted that he would apply the Hastert Rule to immigration reform. Again, consider the events of the shutdown: Speaker Boehner wouldn’t bring the continuing resolution to a vote until concessions were made regarding the Affordable Care Act; however, at the eleventh hour, the continuing resolution was allowed for a vote, 87 Republicans voted for the House motion, and the government was funded again with few concessions made for Conservatives.

Back to the present and CIR: just like during the shutdown, there are more than enough Republicans in the House to vote for the measure and pass CIR to the President for signature, according to the website America’s Voice. But unlike the shutdown, we’re not on the cusp of another major financial meltdown forcing Republicans to acquiesce and support CIR, you say? Well, not so fast. Remember that the government has been funded only until January, so the shutdown fight could return in three months. But, perhaps a more critical meltdown for future Republican elections may be dawning. Some polls show that Republicans that support CIR are more likely to win Latin@ votes. Without Latin@ support, Republicans may not control much in Washington after the next midterm or presidential elections.

So, will Speaker Boehner implement the Hastert Rule on CIR? Hard to say; however, the answer may mean not only future control of Congress or the White House, but the future of the Republican Party.

Additional Blog Posts

Democrats Propose New Immigration Reform, ImmigRantings, October 30, 2013
Immigration Judges Request Separation from the Department of Justice, ImmigRantings, August 19, 2013