Not for a moment do I think he’s following the Hastert Rule here on principle, but that’s okay. As long as the House GOP gets a veto, I don’t care what his motive is. Fear works just fine.

“I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have a majority support of Republicans,” Boehner told reporters following a closed-door House GOP conference meeting…

According to a member who attended the meeting, Boehner argued against the Hastert Rule, but assured his colleagues that he would adhere to it on immigration.

On Monday, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher warned that Boehner should lose his gavel if he moved forward on immigration without majority support, saying it would be a “betrayal” of the party…

Asked by reporters if he agreed with Rohrabacher’s assessment, the Speaker considered the question and replied “maybe.”

GOP Rep. Tom Cotton told Guy Benson last night that he doubts even a small number of Republicans would support a bill like the Gang of Eight’s where amnesty comes before border security. That depends, I suppose, on what he means by “amnesty.” Democrats will insist on probationary legalization first, although they’re willing to let the path to eventual citizenship start later. If Cotton means that security will have to come before even legalization, then immigration reform’s probably dead. A note of caution, though: Boehner also told reporters yesterday that he’s “increasingly concerned” that Democrats would “rather have this as an issue in the 2014 election rather than a result.” That’s the ol’ “sabotage” theory that’s constantly being used to convince conservative amnesty skeptics that the way to really stick it to Obama and Schumer is to pass reform and deny them a wedge issue next year. It’s the purest nonsense, and the fact that Boehner is pushing it even now shows how eager he is to make something happen here. Promising to follow the Hastert Rule is encouraging, but don’t rule out a last-minute betrayal if he thinks he has 218 with Democratic support.

In fact, per National Journal, Boehner and the House leadership have been leaning on conservatives quietly to play ball:

Republicans on and off the Hill say Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy all want to do something on immigration. Boehner “really wants to get that done but he has to be real quiet about it because if he puts his name on it and his brand on it, like he did with the big (fiscal-cliff) deal, then it’s probably going to die under its own weight,” a former GOP leadership aide said…

“What will have to happen, and is happening in private discussions, is that we have to convince these guys if we’re going to go to conference, we’re not going to cave on our principles,” a senior House GOP aide said. “That is the sales job you have to make to those guys.”…

“This is one of those issues where they may only get 80 to 100 Republicans to vote for it on the House floor, but there won’t be the huge internal backlash,” the former aide said. “And that gives (leadership) some room to maneuver and they have some conservative cover. They have (Sen. Marco) Rubio and (Rep. Raul) Labrador,” who are two key conservative Republicans pushing reform.

Boehner, of course, claims he won’t bring it to the floor in the first place if there are only 80 to 100 Republicans to vote for it. Here’s a scenario that seems plausible to me: What if he rounds up, say, 60-75 Republicans to vote yes, which wouldn’t be close to a majority of the caucus but might impress people as a sizable enough minority that it makes the bill “bipartisan” for rhetorical purposes? And what if, on top of that, the RNC and the House leadership start rolling out lots of prominent Republicans to endorse passing the bill with those 60-75 GOP votes, even if it means violating the Hastert Rule? Rubio, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, maybe Jindal, maybe Chris Christie, maybe even Rand Paul — imagine all of them in a full-court media press declaring the bill a triumph, a gift to Republicans, and something that should be passed even if Democrats provide most of the votes. Passionate grassroots righties who follow this stuff day to day would bristle, but all the low-information Republicans out there would probably be impressed by it. The calculus for the party is deciding which is more dangerous to its future, taking the rap for killing immigration reform by having it implode in the House or alienating some conservatives by passing it with most of the Republican caucus opposed. I honestly don’t know which way they’d come down on that. Their eternal trump card, which they’d play again in 2014, is that RINOs are the lesser of two evils vis-a-vis Democrats and therefore most of the righties who declare “I’m staying home!” after amnesty passes will suck it up and vote GOP in the midterms anyway. One thing that would help head off that possibility is having more anti-amnesty conservatives speak up, to sway the low-information voters the other way. Where’s Ted Cruz? Are there no major young Republican governors willing to answer the bell?

By the way, Harry Reid’s suddenly very, very eager to keep immigration reform moving in the Senate. I think Byron York’s right as to why. Keep hope alive.