When Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan announced late on Tuesday that the House will vote next week on two immigration reform bills, he hit pause on the ongoing debate over the status of the so-called Dreamers shielded from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. But, though the step forward can be seen as a victory for the Wisconsin Republican’s conservative camp, it came in the face of a legislative threat.

The announcement of next week’s vote came only after GOP leaders reportedly talked moderates out of forcing one of the immigration reform bills stalled in committee to the House floor for a vote, a threat that had been hanging over the chamber in recent days. The tactic that the moderates had on their side is one with a long history of spurring action among House majority party leaders: the discharge petition.

Among the power trips that Congressional committee leaders can pull, they can prevent legislation from being brought to the House floor by doing, well, nothing. The bill then languishes in committee until its moment passes. A discharge petition is the counterbalance to that power, a way to circumvent gate-keeping committee chairs, as it essentially forces a measure out of committee onto the House floor for a vote. It must be signed by 218 members, representing a majority of the House.

The discharge petition was first created in 1910 as a way to get around Joseph Gurney Cannon, who served both as the House Speaker and Rules Committee chairman, and kept blocking bills introduced by progressive Republican and Democrats. Incidentally, Cannon was featured on the cover of the first issue of TIME in 1923; in the story, he was characterized as believing that “Speakership was a gift from heaven, immaculately born into the Constitution by the will of the fathers for the divine purpose of perpetuating the dictatorship of the standpatters in the Republican Party.”

But members of Congress didn’t really get the hang of using it until after rules for discharge petitions were revised in 1931 and 1935. Desperate times called for desperate measures, so — amid the national upheaval of the Great Depression and the New Deal — discharge petitions only needed 145 signatures. “With the Depression going on, [there were] a lot of kind of populist pressures among members to try new kinds of policies,” says Eric …read more

Source:: Time – Politics


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The Old-School Trick That Finally Pushed the House to Move on Immigration

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