It is 1,200 pages and was almost a year in the making. But the bipartisan Senate immigration bill finally passed last week, meeting Majority Leader Harry Reid’s before-July 4 deadline. The vote was an overwhelming 68 to 32.
The legislation would allow 11 million illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship — a 12-year path with many rigors.
National opinion polls are overwhelmingly in favor immigration reform, including the path to citizenship.
The bill would double the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents along the southern border and require the construction of 700 miles of fencing there, at a price of almost $50 billion. It also would require employers to check the legal status of all job applicants using the government’s E-Verify system.
Now the bill goes to the House, where, of course, there is a problem. In the House, they do not want to pass legislation, unless it is tax cuts. They do not want to do anything that is in agreement with President Obama. And they do not want immigration reform if it includes a path to citizenship.
Some pundits say Republicans cannot elect a president in 2016 without immigration reform. Many big-time Republican donors agree. But none of that will move most House Republicans.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said last week that he would not put the Senate bill before the House. He also said he would only bring to the floor a bill that has majority support among his GOP colleagues. That’s key. An immigration bill with the path to citizenship in it could conceivably pass the House with mostly Democratic and a few moderate and wayward Republican votes. If the speaker is true to his word — and he sometime interprets his own past statements fluidly — that’s the end of immigration reform.
Another path is the discharge petition. If 218 members of the House sign on for the Senate bill, that bill would come to the House floor for a vote. House Democrats have 201 votes, so they’d need 17 Republicans to join them, plus one for every Democrat who defects, in order to pass the Senate bill.
The discharge petition is probably a better threat than a strategy. What makes the most sense is for the public and GOP elites to pressure Mr. Boehner to let a real bill, with the citizenship provision in it, come to the floor.
If a majority can pass it, he has no right to stand in the way. In fact, he has a duty not to block popular and legislative majority will — especially when it is good public policy.