Becerra hoping Boehner abandons 'Hastert rule' in immigration debate

The head of the House Democratic Caucus is hoping Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) won't apply the so-called "Hastert rule" to this year's immigration debate.

While a number of conservative members have pressured GOP leaders to reject any bills that lack the support of a majority of House Republicans – an informal guideline named after former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) – Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) on Monday urged Boehner to scrap the rule when it comes to overhauling the nation's immigration system.

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"We have a lot of folks to wake up in this country," Becerra said at an immigration reform rally at the Capitol. "But ultimately, all you need is a majority of the House of Representatives, and if the Speaker is willing to let the will of the House work its way – the way … the American people are telling … Congress to get this vote done – I think we're going to have, for the first time in … close to 30 years, a vote on a bill to fix our broken immigration system."

Becerra said that both GOP leaders and the Republican negotiators working to iron out a comprehensive bipartisan reform deal this month are pressuring conservative lawmakers to get on board. He suggested Boehner and other leaders want to pass something this year – even without the help of their most right-leaning members – to prevent a repeat of last November's elections, when Latino voters came out in overwhelming support of President Obama and the Democrats.

"I believe Speaker Boehner wants to have a vote, a debated vote, on the floor of the House," Becerra said. "I'm less confident that all the elements of his caucus, the House Republican conference, are quite there, but I think he's working very hard to provide the information and educate the members of the House Republican conference so they can be there.

"We're seeing a new day in Washington, DC, thanks to the election of November 2012," Becerra added. "And sometimes it takes an election to wake people up."

Boehner has taken heat from conservatives on and off Capitol Hill for passing a growing list of bills without the backing of a majority of his Republican conference. The most recent instance came last week, when the lower chamber passed legislation related to battlefield preservation that saw 122 Republicans voting "no," versus just 101 who supported the measure, which required the backing of 182 Democrats to get it across the finish line.

Giving hope to critics of the Hastert rule, Boehner last week said he "always" intends to pass bills "with strong Republican support,” but suggested he won't let that guideline alone dictate which bills come to the floor.

“Listen, it was never a rule to begin with,” Boehner said Thursday during a press briefing.

The immigration debate is certain to heat up this week, as the Senate's so-called "Gang of Eight" is expected to release its version of a comprehensive reform bill on Tuesday. The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a Friday hearing on the topic.

Becerra, who is one of the key negotiators behind a separate House bill, suggested Monday that the lower chamber intends to follow suit shortly.

"If the Senate does announce [a plan] tomorrow, that'll be great because it'll give everyone a chance to see what a bipartisan immigration reform [bill] will look like," Becerra said. "I don't think the House is too far behind."

Becerra said both Senate and House negotiators have reached agreement on the most significant sticking points, including whether to provide a pathway to citizenship for the country's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, and "are [now] trying to iron out … smaller issues."

"You're not hearing a lot of talk about 'amnesty' and 'self-deportation' any more, you're hearing talk about how we get this done," he said.

He said the recent accord between the U.S. Chamber and Commerce and the AFL-CIO surrounding future flows of laborers, combined with the weekend agreement between farm workers and the nation's growers, "should really help move the process along."

Becerra also suggested that the bills emerging from the two chambers won't be dramatically different.

"I don't think you're going to see too much space between what the Senate and what the House produce," he said.