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Immigration and the Hastert Rule
The anatomy of a promise.

House speaker John Boehner

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By this point, the conservatives in the House were coming unglued. The same day, Representative Steve King told National Review Online he had gathered the necessary 50 signatures to force a “special conference” on immigration. While King said he was not envisioning a challenge to Boehner, forcing a special conference happened to be the same procedure one would use to force an unscheduled leadership election.

Two days later, Boehner slightly walked back his comments, saying, “I don’t intend to bring an immigration bill to the floor that violates what I and what my — members of my party, what our — principles are.”

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He also moved to head off King’s effort by announcing a “special conference” on immigration for July 10, something a GOP leadership aide said had been in the works for “weeks.”

Five days later, the issue had metastasized. In a radio interview, Representative Dana Rohrabacher warned Boehner that he should be “removed as Speaker” if he violated the Hastert rule on immigration.

That morning, outside of the Capitol Hill Club, I interviewed Representative Louie Gohmert, who had just listened to Boehner tell Republicans at a closed-door meeting that he didn’t want to bring a bill to the floor that didn’t have the support of the majority of the majority. That guarantee contained too much wiggle room for Gohmert.

“My concern is not that he will bring a bill to the floor without a majority of Republican support, but that we bring a bill to the floor of the House, pass that, and then it goes to conference, and then, not a bill, but a conference report comes that has amnesty and then it’s passed by a majority of Democrats,” Gohmert said.

Immediately following the interview, I went into a press conference with Boehner, who reiterated his Hastert-rule promise. Does it extend to the conference report, I asked? “We’ll see when we get there,” he replied.

It appeared to be confirmation of conservatives’ worst fears. Later that day, a Boehner spokesman tried to walk it back, saying that he had consulted the Speaker personally and that the desire to pass an immigration bill with the support of the majority of the majority did extend to the conference report.

It wasn’t enough. Shortly afterwards, Representative Michele Bachmann began circulating a letter asking Boehner and House majority leader Eric Cantor for a promise in writing that the Speaker would follow the Hastert rule on the final conference report for any immigration bill.

On June 27, Boehner finally said the words that persuaded his right flank to back down.

“For any legislation — including a conference report — to pass the House, it’s going to have to be a bill that has the support of a majority of our members,” Boehner told reporters.

“Speaker Boehner’s latest comments accomplish the intent of the letter,” said Bachmann spokesman Dan Kotman, indicating that his boss was standing down.

It’s not that conservatives are totally letting down their guard. Stockman says he doesn’t believe any politician’s promise: He saw colleagues who had committed in writing to vote against Boehner for Speaker call out the Ohio Republican’s name when the vote occurred.

But for what it’s worth, they finally have an actual promise from Boehner.

— Jonathan Strong is a political reporter for National Review Online.



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