Pelosi: We might force a House vote on the Gang of Eight immigration bill

It’s not quite true that nothing reaches the floor of the House without the Speaker’s say-so. If the minority leader can get a clear majority to sign a discharge petition, guaranteeing passage of the underlying bill, she can force the Speaker’s hand.

Luckily, Pelosi can’t make that happen on the Gang of Eight bill without getting 18 Republicans to sign, and that’s impossible. Or is it?

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told donors at an Organizing for Action event Monday night that Democratic leadership in the House was weighing a discharge petition that would bring the Senate immigration bill directly to the floor for a vote.

Pelosi was asked about the legislative strategy during a dinner with about 70 supporters of the advocacy group, which grew out of the president’s re-election campaign. She said leadership was still deciding to press forward with the legislative maneuver, noting that doing so would take 30 legislative days…

But the maneuver is seen as a direct rebuke of House leadership, and it would be tough to find [18] GOP defectors who both support the bill and would be willing to upset leadership.

Would it be tough? Not if you believe Democratic “Gang of Seven” member Luis Gutierrez:

And so what Barack Obama kept saying to me and Speaker Pelosi and everybody, every time we’d say, “Let’s organize for comprehensive immigration reform,” so they said, “Oh, slow down Luis. There aren’t 218 votes. Why don’t you just go away? Go find yourself 45, 50 Republicans and when you’ve found them, organize them, right? And have them ready to join the Democrats? Not that we’re going to help you in any way to galvanize that. Come back and talk to us.”

Well guess what? I’m back. They’re here. The 45, 50 Republicans that we were always looking for — they’re present. And they’re present and they’re embodied in Carter, and they’re embodied in Paul Ryan, and in Sam Johnson, and in [Rep. Mario] Diaz-Balart [R-Fla.], who has been wonderful. He’s been very good, very upfront and I think has helped to give hope, especially as we communicate with immigrants and the Latino community, and they see the two of us working together.

Even if he’s exaggerating for effect, does anyone on either side doubt that one-tenth of the GOP caucus would be willing to vote yes on the Schumer/Rubio disaster in the name of outreach to Latino voters? Boehner himself would vote yes, I suspect, if he thought it wouldn’t cost him his Speakership. The whole question here, then, is whether there are 18 purple-district Republicans who are not only willing to brave the wrath of conservatives back home but who think the GOP’s House leadership wouldn’t punish them too terribly for voting with the Dems. Is there any scenario where those 18 might emerge?

Actually, yeah, maybe. No Republican’s going to sign Pelosi’s petition right now, I think, because the GOP caucus hasn’t had a chance to come up with a bill yet. It’s one thing to knife your own caucus in the back, it’s another to knife them in the back while they’re busy working on their own plan. If 18 GOPers sign now, it means the ball is stripped from Boehner’s hands before Republicans have had a chance to cross the goal line. If, however, the House passes something and then the conference with the Senate goes nowhere, leaving the fate of comprehensive reform in peril, maybe then there’ll be 18 Republicans who decide to salvage the process by rubber-stamping the Gang bill. That’s not a takeaway, they’ll say, that’s picking up a fumble. They’ve got cover from Marco Rubio to pass it, don’t they? He’s a true-blue “tea-party conservative” and he thinks the Senate bill’s just fab, right?

In fact, if you assume that the Republican leadership in the House is basically pro-amnesty, a Pelosi-led discharge petition is an ideal way to get reform passed with minimal conservative backlash. If Boehner brings the bill to the floor, conservatives in the caucus will probably depose him; if Pelosi brings it to the floor, well, whaddaya gonna do? The one wrinkle in doing it that way is that it would let Democrats claim that they passed the bill by themselves, more or less, since nearly all House Republicans opposed it. That defeats the purpose of immigration reform as a big GOP outreach measure to Latinos. But the GOP could counter that by suddenly pushing Rubio back out front and center to do another media tour and claim credit (not unreasonably) for having made this thing happen in the Senate. Whether he’d want to do that given the heat he’s taken from righties is unclear, but since he’s already in for a penny, he might as well go in for a pound. He voted for the Gang of Eight crap; it’ll be held against him whether he congratulates the House for voting for it too or not. Might as well gamble on embracing it.