House Speaker John Boehner is not going to bring a comprehensive immigration-reform plan to the floor if a majority of Republicans don't support it, sources familiar with his plans said.
"No way in hell," is how several described the chances of the speaker acting on such a proposal without a majority of his majority behind him.
Boehner, R-Ohio, does not view immigration in the same vein as the fiscal cliff last December, when he backed a bill that protected most Americans from a tax increase even though less than half of the GOP lawmakers were with him, said multiple sources, who spoke anonymously to allow greater candor.
With economists warning that the deep cuts and higher taxes needed to avoid the fiscal cliff could devastate an already ailing economy, Boehner felt compelled to compromise with President Obama and allow taxes to rise on the wealthiest taxpayers. He feels no such urgency about immigration reform, lawmakers said.
Boehner has long supported an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy and would like the House to act on it before August. But he also understands the issue's political sensitivity and the impact it could have on Republicans in the 2014 mid-term elections.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a former pollster aligned with the GOP leadership, said Boehner will not approach to immigration reform the same way he did the fiscal cliff tax bill, or the Violence Against Women Act, which also passed with a minority of the majority.
"I just don't think that's the winning formula here," Cole told The Washington Examiner. "What the speaker wants to do is have a hopefully bipartisan product -- certainly one that has the majority of Republicans -- pass the House. This has got too much emotional, political impact and I think it really has to be genuinely bipartisan."
The Senate is debating the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" proposal, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is pubhsing for a final vote before the July 4 recess.
The House also is creating its own a bipartisan comprehensive plan, authored by four Democrats and three Republicans, but it is also advancing multiple bills of much narrower scope that will deal with individual Republican priorities like border enforcement.
Democratic and progressive immigration reform advocates remain hopeful that the Senate bill, which includes a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants already living in the U.S., will be the basis for any final congressional compromise. The Senate bill's citizenship pathway, although arduous, conditional and designed to take 10 to 15 years to achieve, will almost assuredly face opposition from House Republicans.
That is why Boehner, in an interview last Monday, raised eyebrows and excited Democrats when he declined to specifically rule out bringing up an immigration bill that did not have the support of a majority of his majority. The speaker latered clarified his remarks, saying most Republicans would have to support anything brought to the floor.
"My goal is always to bring bills to the floor that have a strong Republican majority," Boehner said. "Immigration reform is a very difficult issue. But I don't intend to bring an immigration bill to the floor that violates what I and what members of my party -- what our principles are."
The practice of bringing to the floor only bills that are supported by the majority of the majority party has become known as the "Hastert Rule," named after former Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who used that standard as a litmus test. Hastert's successors are free to violate that guideline, as Boehner did on the tax deal, and so conservative activists are now urging House Republicans to incorporate the standard into the body's internal rules to prevent Boehner or his successors from violating it.
Boehner has so far maintained a commitment to moving immigration reform through "regular order," delegating authority over much of the process to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. The speaker has acted behind the scenes to keep the process from sputtering, but otherwise prefers to foster member involvement and encourage as many as possible to introduce bills and legislate.
One GOP strategist noted that Boehner is navigating a different set of dynamics than Reid in the Senate. In particular, House Republicans are likely to suffer a greater voter backlash in the 2014 elections is they back the wrong immigration reform bill than they would if they simply did nothing on the issue.
"There is no national crisis with an artificial deadline the president can trump up and trot out on the nightly news," the GOP strategist said. "Boehner is under no pressure to put the Senate bill on the floor."