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U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner leaves the U.S. Capitol in Washington December 29, 2012. REUTERS
Whether immigration reform survives or fails is entirely dependent on whether House Speaker John Boehner wants to remain in power.
While I'm an on-the-record pessimist on chances that the House will pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, chamber Democrats are (at least publicly) far more optimistic. The big question: Will House Speaker Boehner stick with the "Hastert Rule" requiring a majority of Republicans to move a bill to a vote, or will he betray conservatives and allow a free up-or-down vote?

Whether you're an optimist or pessimist depends on whether you think Boehner will crack.

House conservatives are currently flexing their muscles:

Labrador, who with a group of "a few" other House Republicans is working on a new immigration rewrite to propose to leadership, said he thinks Democrats will cave.

"It has to be a Republican bill that the Democrats would accept," said Labrador, who added that Democrats were being unreasonable. "If it doesn’t … we might as well just go home right now if we’re going to do whatever the Democrats want to do."

Democrats, on the other hand, are betting Boehner caves on the Hastert Rule:
But Democrats say they are confident that Boehner will be the one to renege on his pledge, and the minority’s strategy of demanding a pathway to citizenship hinges on whether they are doing the right math, according to senior Democratic aides present during Tuesday’s meeting.

"The operating theory is that we’re not going to make this easy for them," one Democratic aide said about Republicans, "and if they want our votes, they are going to have to give us something for it. … With enough pressure, we can get them to violate the Hastert rule."

There's a third group in the House, mostly the most teabaggy of the teabaggers, who are opposed to any immigration legislation coming out of the House, even if it's a border-only bill, afraid that it'll get replaced by something more resembling the Senate bill in the conference committee. They fear what Democrats expect—that pressure to pass the conference bill will be so intense that Boehner will renege on his Hastert Rule promises and allow an up-or-down vote. At that point, reform advocates would only need about 1/5th of the Republican caucus to join Democrats for final passage.

So what kind of pressure would it take for Boehner to break his Hastert Rule promise? Millions of brown people marching on the street? That'll only embolden the xenophobes, putting extra pressure on Boehner to stand firm. No, the pressure has to come from inside his House, and that'll be the business wing of the GOP, eager for (legal) access to imported labor, and establishment Republicans fearful of electoral irrelevance.

Will that be enough? If Boehner reneges on his Hastert Rule promise, he's finished as speaker. So the question is whether he's comfortable giving up power in exchange for a cushy multi-million dollar K-Street lobbying gig. Right now, Boehner is telling conservatives everything they want to hear. If he holds fast, immigration reform is dead. So it all comes down to whether he's being sincere, or if he's full of shit.

Hmmm. Once I put it that way, I'm suddenly more optimistic.

Originally posted to kos on Wed Jul 10, 2013 at 10:24 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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