How to pass immigration reform, without a majority of the majority

The U.S. Senate has managed to pass an immigration reform bill. Now it goes to the House of Representatives, where conservative Republicans, obstructionists, anti-immigration zealots, John Boehner and his band of meanies will undoubtedly do everything they can to stymie it. But there is, in fact, a way to get the bill through, even without the “majority of the majority” that Boehner is insisting on.  The strategy is called a discharge petition.

At the Maddow Blog, Steve Benen explains the discharge petition this way:

As a rule, the only bills that reach the House floor for a vote are the ones House leaders allow to reach the floor. But there’s an exception: if 218 members sign a discharge petition, their preferred legislation is brought up for a vote whether the majority party’s leadership likes it or not.

In terms of specific numbers, there are 201 Democrats in the House caucus. If literally all of them are prepared to support the bipartisan Senate bill, they would need 17 House Republicans — just 7% of the 231 GOP House members — to join them on the discharge petition. If, say, 10 conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats from Southern states balked, they would need 27 Republicans to break party ranks.

Just last week, we were told they were as many as 40 House Republicans who consider themselves moderates, unhappy with their party’s far-right direction. Is there a chance half of these alleged centrists might sign a discharge petition and get immigration reform done? Sure there is.

I’m usually not a fan of legislative and procedural tricks, but for this worthy cause—immigration reform—I’d made an exception.  It’s hard to be against the tactic that enabled the 1964 Civil Rights Act to pass, right?

Unfortunately, people smarter than me are pessimistic about the chances of a discharge petition this time around. Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum says:

I’m not a believer. Here’s why: it actually makes sense. If Republicans really do want to pass immigration reform just to get it over and done with, but they want to do it without getting their fingerprints all over it, the discharge petition is easily their best bet. As Steve says, all it requires is 20 or 30 Republicans in safe seats to vote for it, while the entire rest of the caucus gets to continue railing against it while secretly breathing a sigh of relief. That’s totally logical.

And that’s why it won’t happen. Logic is simply not the GOP’s strong suit these days, and frankly, neither is Machiavellian maneuvering. The only thing they know how to do is yell and scream and hold votes on endless doomed repetitions of bills designed to demonstrate their ideological purity.

I can only hope that Drum is wrong.