Menendez, Boehner Clash Over Hastert Rule for Immigration Reform

WASHINGTON – Sen. Bob Menendez expressed displeasure Tuesday over House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to withhold consideration of any immigration reform measure that doesn’t have the support of the majority of the Republican caucus.

Menendez (D-N.J.), a member of the Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of upper-chamber lawmakers who have pieced together a delicate immigration compromise, questioned Boehner’s seriousness about addressing the issue “if he is willing to put tea party politics ahead of the will of the American people.”

“It is amazing and alarming that Speaker Boehner would allow a minority of House members – who will never, ever support immigration reform – to dictate the fate of bipartisan, comprehensive reform that an overwhelming majority of the American people want,” Menendez said.

The decision, Menendez said, is “not in our national interest and it’s certainly not about fixing our broken immigration system.”

Earlier Tuesday, Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters that he could not envision a scenario where he would permit debate over immigration reform if most members of the Republican majority in the House didn’t offer their support.

Boehner said the only time he will consider bringing an issue to the floor without the support of his caucus is “when there is zero leverage.” That has occurred during his tenure in the chair on occasion – most recently when the lower chamber voted on Hurricane Sandy relief – but only when “we faced a worse alternative, politically or in terms of policy.”

That is not the case in this instant, Boehner said, so he is obliged to implement what is popularly known as the Hastert rule, named after former House Speaker Denny Hastert, an Illinois Republican who took great pains to satisfy his caucus.

“We have plenty of leverage,” Boehner said. “And I have no intention of putting a bill on the floor that will violate the principles of our majority and divide our conference. One of our principles is border security. I have no intention of putting a bill on the floor that the people in this room do not believe secures our borders. It's not going to happen.”

Boehner to this point has been coy about how he intended to address immigration reform, which is making its way through the Senate with a vote slated before July 4. But he has been under pressure from GOP lawmakers, particularly those with a conservative bent, to take a stand.