House Republicans may soon face a flurry of constituent phone calls and awkward confrontations with immigration advocates. That’s because House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Tuesday evening that she may make a procedural move to hold Republicans accountable to their claims that they support an immigration bill that includes legal status, like the one in the House Democrats’ comprehensive immigration bill. She expects the move — filing a discharge petition and forcing a vote — will fail, but hopes it will elicit pressure on legislators who are claiming they would vote for reform while using every excuse in the book not to.
During a SiriusXM Leading Ladies Series radio event, Pelosi told an audience member that while she wasn’t optimistic that there would be enough signatures for a successful discharge petition, that the move would elicit external pressure that would move House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to act.
It’s unclear when Pelosi will introduce a discharge petition, but she will likely make a decision after consulting with various stakeholders, including labor unions and faith leaders. The petition process to force a vote requires the signature of an “absolute majority,” or 218 members, when the leadership is opposed to bringing such legislation to the floor. Pelosi said:
QUESTIONER: Would you consider filing a discharge petition, which has been discussed, especially on immigration, where it might have a chance to pass with some Republican support.
PELOSI: Well I do think that immigration would pass and we have a discharge petition last week on minimum wage. Overwhelmingly in a non-partisan way, in high numbers support raising the minimum wage. Even among Republicans it’s like over 50 percent. Extending unemployment benefits will reach two million people… we’ll have a discharge petition on that this week. We know that if either of those are brought to the floor, we would have a vote. Mr. Speaker, just give us a vote. On immigration, I’ll be meeting today and tomorrow, as I did last week, with stakeholders about how we’ll come to a decision on the immigration bill. We’re never going to get the 218 on the discharge petition, this is technical, because the Republicans will generally not sign. But the fact that it is there and the outside mobilization is saying all we want is a vote. Either sign the petition which enables us to get a vote or urge the Speaker to give us a vote.
If he thinks that the votes are not there, there’s nothing to lose, right? His side will prevail. His point of view will prevail. But I’m hopeful that in the spirit of fairness, we would at least get a vote on minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and immigration.
The prospects of a successful discharge petition are grim. Even though the votes are there with the 30 House Republicans who have publicly called for a path to citizenship for some immigrants, Republican leaders have dedicated more time to focusing on the President’s supposed failure to enforce the Constitution, a “rampant” asylum fraud, and a “loophole” that allow gang members to “game the immigration system,” than they have to fixing the immigration system. Added to that list are the three House Republicans who co-sponsored the House Democrats’ immigration bill and have already stated that they would not sign a discharge petition. And historically, discharge petitions have just been unpopular. Max Ehrenfreund of the Washington Post found that only two discharge petitions have been successful — once in the 1980s to weaken the 1968 Gun Control Act and again in 2002 to force a vote on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation.
As the Obama administration approaches its somber two million deportations landmark, advocates will no doubt use the opportunity of an unsigned discharge petition to inflict political pain on House Republicans in the 2014 and 2016 elections. Two recent Latino Decisions reports conducted on Arizona and Texas demographics found that 38 percent and 36 percent of Latinos (respectively) in both states would be more inclined to support future Republican candidates if the party advanced comprehensive immigration reform including a pathway to citizenship.