The discharge-petition scenario


Chatter has increased about using a “discharge petition” to try to force a House vote on immigration reform, an idea Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., endorsed recently.

Critics have said: But a discharge petition is hopeless; Republicans will never sign it. That may be. But conversations with folks involved in the strategy have made it clear to me that those conclusions miss the point.

Those considering a discharge petition don’t necessarily expect Republicans to sign it (around two dozen Republicans would need to join all House Democrats to reach the 218 signatures necessary to force a vote). Their goal is to give GOP-aligned pro-immigration groups a new mechanism to induce vulnerable House Republicans to prod their leadership to move reform forward in some fashion.

Here’s the play: There are probably several dozen House Republicans, possibly more, who represent moderate districts and/or are vulnerable to a challenger; who represent local chambers of commerce or agricultural or tech interests that want reform; who are favorably disposed toward reform for religious or conservative reasons (yes, there are a few); or who represent districts with high concentrations of Latinos. If Democrats move forward with a petition, GOP-aligned constituencies would have a new pressure point to apply to these Republicans.

The discharge petition allows these groups to say: Here’s your chance; are you with us or against us? Joining a discharge petition would be a betrayal of leadership, so few members are likely to sign. But those lawmakers feeling heat from these groups might be incentivized to go to the Republican leadership and, citing the pressures on them from these groups, say they want the GOP to move forward somehow, even with its piecemeal proposals.

That alone could get things moving. But there’s a better-case scenario, too: A single Republican could agree to be the primary mover of the petition. Political scientist Molly Jackman told me that there is precedent for this: In two previous instances, members of the majority party sponsored petitions, leading to success, because that gave them “the credibility they needed to actually force a vote.”

The first scenario is more likely, of course, and even that’s a long shot. But once the petition is considered for purposes other than getting signatures, the strategy looks more worthwhile.

There has also been a lot of discussion of plans by lefty pro-immigration groups to turn up the heat on Republicans in the wake of House Speaker John Boehner’s announcement that it would be “difficult” to move on immigration reform this year. But the action that matters will have to come from center-right groups: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, growers associations and tech interests out West, evangelicals.

Will they step up and make it clear to those gettable Republicans that their support this fall is largely contingent on whether they make a serious effort to pressure the GOP leadership to act? That’s the next thing to watch.

© 2014, The Washington Post

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