Consistency isn’t the Republican Party’s strong suit, so I don’t want to make too much of this. But there’s something I discussed yesterday that could have a big impact on the effort to pass the DREAM Act through Congress. Remember, I discussed the commitments Paul Ryan made to the Freedom Caucus back in 2015 when he was negotiating with them to become the new Speaker of the House. One of the main promises Ryan made was that he would not introduce bills that didn’t have the support of a majority of the Republicans in the House. In particular, he said he would not introduce any immigration bill that wasn’t supported by more than half of his caucus.
The 45-year-old Wisconsin congressman said he would only push important bills such as immigration that have a majority of support from Republicans — abiding by the “Hastert Rule.”
Let’s look at that Hastert Rule again:
Hastert Rule: An informal rule of the House of Representatives first imposed by Speaker Denny Hastert. The rule holds that the Speaker of the House shall bring no bill to a vote that does not have majority support among members of the majority. In other words, under Republican Speaker Hastert, who was elected Speaker by a GOP majority of the House of Representatives, no bill could be brought to the floor for a vote unless a majority of House Republicans supported the bill.
At that point, the conservatives in the House were still worried about the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. You might have forgotten the details, but the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed in the Senate by a filibuster-proof 68-32 margin. The majority of Republicans in the Senate (32 to 14), however, voted against it. If John Boehner had been willing to violate the Hastert Rule and bring the bill to a vote, it most likely would have passed in the House, too, and been signed into law by President Obama. But Boehner had enough problems violating the Hastert Rule to raise the debt ceiling and avoid government shutdowns. He couldn’t afford to create a revolt on an issue as charged as immigration.
The Freedom Caucus wanted some assurance that Ryan would be no different, and Ryan provided it.
This presents a problem now that President Trump has demanded that Congress pass the DREAM Act. To be sure, the DREAM Act is less controversial and has more widespread Republican support than any comprehensive immigration reform bill would, but that doesn’t mean that a majority of House Republicans would vote for it if it didn’t include other measures that the Democrats won’t support.
Trump wants border wall funding, but Chuck Grassley, who will oversee the effort in the Senate, says that wall funding is impractical. Sen. John McCain wants the DREAM Act to be part of a more comprehensive bill. Sen. John Cornyn wants the bill to take on sanctuary cities. These divisions in the Senate will play out in the House, too. The Democrats want a clean bill and may be willing to force a government shutdown in December in an effort to get one.
As complicated as this all is, it’s likely that the DREAM Act could pass the House if it is brought up for a vote. I’d say that it’s almost certain, actually. But Ryan made a specific promise that he would not bring a Hastert-violating immigration bill for a vote as a condition of winning the support of Freedom Caucus members. John Boehner never made that kind of promise and yet he still was unwilling to allow a vote on the 2013 immigration bill.
Would the Freedom Caucus attempt a coup against Speaker Ryan if he backtracked on his pledge?
Would the Bannonites use it as the way to finally force Ryan out?
It could be that Ryan will find himself in a situation similar to the one that caused Boehner to resign. In Boehner’s case, his condition for stepping down was that he get the votes to keep the government operating and to avoid a default on our debts. Ryan might make passage of the DREAM Act his condition.
Would Steve Bannon and his followers take that deal?