The House Rules Committee wielded its enormous and quiet power late Tuesday evening to kill an effort from Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) to grant amnesty to illegal alien DREAMers who enlist in the military via the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Via the House Resolution that sets the overarching rules of debate on the House floor for the NDAA, which was offered by committee chairman Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) and approved by voice vote late Tuesday, the Rules Committee categorically rejected Denham’s effort to offer an amendment containing his ENLIST Act language.
Specifically, the way these resolutions work is that they list out the amendments that can be offered during the House floor debate on any bill–amendments “in order,” they’re called. The resolutions similarly leave off of that list–essentially a refusal to consider–whatever amendments the Rules Committee determines not worthy of consideration during the House floor debate, for whatever reason.
The Committee had passed a separate rule Monday that got the debate on NDAA started, then completed its NDAA work with Tuesday evening’s resolution that also includes House rules for the USA Freedom Act–a bill from Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI). With the passage of Tuesday evening’s resolution that leaves out Denham’s ENLIST Act amendment to the NDAA, after Monday’s had similarly left it out, the Rules Committee finally stamped out the House effort to add such language to the NDAA after the push from Denham and some of his allies circled the drain for the last month plus since Breitbart News first revealed it in early April.
The Rules Committee’s raw power to allow–or in this case, disallow–certain amendments from debate on major bills on the House floor often goes unnoticed. The committee’s thirteen members–Chairman Sessions and GOP members Virginia Foxx, Rob Bishop, Tom Cole, Rob Woodall, Richard Nugent, Daniel Webster, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Michael Burgess, and Democrat members Louise McIntosh Slaughter, James McGovern, Jared Polis and Alcee Hastings–work closely with leadership to frame House floor discussions.
But in cases like this, where Majority Leader Eric Cantor is not supporting a specific high-profile amendment that one member–Denham–is pushing, the Rules Committee’s sobering forcefulness is on public display.
The Denham effort to get ENLIST Act language into the NDAA started with a push to try to get it included in the base bill before amendments, something that failed quickly after the plan was first revealed. Then Denham sought–along with House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), who has a similar bill–to get an amendment onto the NDAA bill in either subcommittee or full committee markup. That effort was foiled under public pressure from anti-amnesty activists, too, at which point Denham sought to offer the amendment on the House floor by himself.
By that point, Cantor–who originally supported the NDAA effort and says he supports the ENLIST Act policy in and of itself–was under so much pressure he publicly stated late last week he wouldn’t support allowing such an amendment on the House floor.
In a last ditch effort to keep his dying play alive, Denham went ahead anyway on Monday and offered his amendment up. But even the public pressure from pro-amnesty interests couldn’t carry it back to life, as the Rules Committee finished it off Tuesday night.
While this move kills the effort to grant amnesty to illegal aliens via military enlistment using the NDAA bill from the House once and for all, it doesn’t mean the larger play is dead. Over on the Senate side, Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin–the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee and a member of Senate Democratic leadership–is pushing for such language in the NDAA. He has also called on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to administratively grant amnesty to such illegal aliens if they enlist in the military via executive order, outside the purview of Congress if House Republicans keep blocking the bill.
Meanwhile, back on the House side, Denham is expected to push for a vote via a suspension of the rules vote on the bill on the House floor. Denham confirmed such an effort in an interview earlier this month, and if the House goes via the suspension of the rules route, Denham would need two thirds of the House to vote for his bill – something that may or may not happen. However, Denham did say he thinks the majority of the House as a whole would support the bill.
“I think it’s a bipartisan support that’s going to garner a majority of support from the entire House,” Denham said. “We haven’t done a vote count on it yet. I want to make sure I’m working with [House Majority Whip Kevin] McCarthy to do a good whip check first.”
A GOP leadership aide said “We don’t whip suspensions. There hasn’t been a conversation about it.”
Anti-amnesty activists, however, are like to fight against that maneuver as well because it could become a political bludgeon Democrats use to attack House GOP leadership into allowing more immigration legislation to come up for votes throughout the rest of the year.