WASHINGTON — Senator Charles E. Schumer, one of the architects of broad immigration legislation that passed the Senate in June, on Thursday embraced the idea of using a procedural maneuver known as a discharge petition to circumvent the Republican majority in the House and bring sweeping immigration legislation to a vote before the end of the year.
“The idea that’s begun circulating, to do a discharge petition on immigration reform in the House, is a good one and I would urge House Democrats to take it up,” Mr. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said in an email statement. “It’s clear a majority of the House supports immigration reform. A minority faction has scared Republicans out of acting even though large parts of the Republican base, including business and religious groups, support the bill, making a discharge petition an appropriate remedy.”
Mr. Schumer was responding to a recent column in The Washington Post by E. J. Dionne Jr. that suggested that Democrats use the tactic to try to force the Republican-controlled House to take up a broad immigration overhaul, most likely passing it with almost entirely Democratic votes.
It was not the first time in recent weeks that Mr. Schumer has floated an out-of-the-box idea in an attempt to keep alive the prospects of an immigration overhaul. During a “Meet the Press” appearance on Sunday, Mr. Schumer suggested passing immigration legislation this year, but delaying its implementation until 2017, in order to assuage the concern of many Republicans who do not trust President Obama to enforce the laws.
Republicans, Mr. Schumer said on the show, “have said they want to do immigration reform, but they don’t trust the president to enforce the law, particularly the enforcement parts. So there’s a simple solution: Let’s enact the law this year, but simply not let it actually start until 2017, after President Obama’s term is over.”
The last successful discharge petition, which circumvents regular order and allows lawmakers to overcome resistance from the speaker on issues they do not support, occurred in 2002, on a vote to overhaul campaign finance laws. Lawmakers and aides from both sides of the aisle say that a discharge petition — especially one coming from Mr. Schumer, who is considered a liberal pariah by many House conservatives — is highly unlikely to succeed.
Even if all of the House Democrats supported the measure, it would still require more than a dozen Republican votes.
“This scheme has zero chance of success — a clear majority in the House understands that the massive Senate-passed bill is deeply flawed,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner. “That’s why we will continue to work on step-by-step, common-sense reform.”
But Mr. Schumer’s strategy accomplishes an important goal of Democrats and immigration advocates — it keeps the pressure on Mr. Boehner and his fellow Republicans to move forward on at least some sort of an immigration overhaul, and serves as a political cudgel for Democrats, especially looking toward the 2016 presidential elections.
Coming on the heels of a “clean” debt ceiling vote this week, which Mr. Boehner put on the House floor Tuesday knowing it would pass only with a majority of Democratic votes, Mr. Schumer’s suggestion also serves as a trial balloon of just how far Mr. Boehner is willing to push his conference and buck outside conservative activists.
Mr. Boehner has already violated the so-called “Hastert Rule” — the unofficial credo that legislation should pass the House only with a majority of the majority — six times in the past 14 months, and a discharge could potentially provide him with political cover to do so again on immigration.
But even those who support an immigration overhaul say that rounding up the necessary Republican votes would prove an impossible task.
Representative Charlie Dent, a Republican moderate and supporter of moving forward on immigration, said a discharge petition has “zero” chance of accumulating the Republican signatures it would need. Even Republicans like himself, who favor action, would not sign on to a petition requesting consideration of the Senate-passed bill, because they do not support it on policy grounds.
During the 16-day government shutdown in October, Democrats circulated a discharge petition to reopen the government — a maneuver that was seen as far more urgent and, in theory, had far more support. But Republicans refused to sign, said Mr. Dent, who led the House Republicans trying to end the shutdown.
Now, the same Republicans who support action on immigration would not betray Mr. Boehner. “It means you’re putting a thumb in the eye of the speaker, not just in this issue but any issue,” Mr. Dent said. “You’re essentially handing control of the floor to the minority party.”
The speaker’s decision this week to put a debt ceiling increase to a vote without preconditions was meant to get past a divisive issue so Republicans could regain their focus on the issues that unite them, especially opposition to President Obama’s health care law. It was “pulling the bandage from the scab and doing it fast,” Mr. Dent said, adding that Republicans are not about to reapply the immigration bandage anytime soon.
“Could you get a couple?” he said. “Perhaps, but not many.”
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