To fully appreciate how dim the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform have become, look no further than the fact that supporters of amnesty are now pinning their hopes on a “discharge petition,” a rarely successful tactic that forces a vote in the House against the wishes of leadership. A “discharge petition” allows any piece of legislation to be brought to the floor for a vote, if 218 Representatives endorse it. Chatter about a “discharge petition” usually means legislation is doomed.
Earlier this year, with the backing of the DC GOP establishment, business interests and labor, there were high-hopes of amnesty legislation passing Congress. Those hopes have been dashed on the rocks of a solid conservative bulwark in the House who insists on securing the border and improving internal enforcement of immigration laws before discussing a path to legalization. With the exception of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House GOP Leadership has insisted that only legislation that has a “majority of the majority” in the House will be considered. Sticking to this so-called “Hastert Rule” renders any amnesty bill DOA in the House.
So, supporters of amnesty are throwing the ultimate “Hail Mary” pass and pushing for a “discharge petition”, which would force amnesty legislation to the floor for a vote. Democrats believe that, if they swayed 20 or so Republicans to support amnesty, the House could pass a bill and then conference with the Senate.
There are two big problems with this strategy. First, amnesty supporters have no legislation around which to organize a discharge petition. Despite misdirection from Obama and the media, the Senate hasn’t yet sent their “Gang of 8″ bill to the House for consideration. There simply is no Senate bill for the House to consider. Likely this is because the Senate bill, in its construction, is unconstitutional.
Supporters of a discharge petition need a piece of legislation to organize around. House legislation providing for comprehensive immigration reform doesn’t exist. Earlier this year, the House had its own bi-partisan “gang,” but it never produced legislation. The question for backers of this effort is very simple: what bill do you want to discharge for a vote?
The other problem with this strategy is that it relies on a significant number of House Republicans to buck their own leadership. It relies on members of the GOP to resort to a nuclear option against Speaker Boehner. There are no signs this is even a remote possibility.
There is no public groundswell to pass amnesty. Supporters of amnesty promised to flood townhalls this August to press their case. There are few reports this made any meaningful difference. Most polls indicate that the public, including Hispanics, want to see the border secured before there is debate over amnesty. The House GOP seems much closer to the public than the mandarins in the Senate.
A “discharge petition” is noise you make when you’ve lost an issue. By November, people will have to remind themselves that the GOP spent months debating immigration reform.