Why immigration reform faces an uphill battle in the House

We haven't seen any polling on this, but we'd wager that few Americans outside D.C. know what the "Hastert Rule" is. And who could blame them? It isn't even a written rule. But it does help highlight the pressures in the Republican conference right now as it wrangles with immigration reform, and the way Congress operates in this new era.

When they assembled this week to map out their approach, House Republicans made clear they won't be taking up the Senate's "gang of eight" bill because not all House GOP members support it. Many expressed principled disagreement with the policy; still others said they were skeptical that the Senate bill's plan for border enforcement - which they prioritize - would really happen.

Many national Republicans see an immigration measure as a step toward making inroads with Hispanic voters, who have growing clout and have voted overwhelmingly Democratic. But House members' political calculus can be - by design - very different from the Senate's, and probably from those looking to steer the national party's "brand." The thought of primaries or voter anger back home might outweigh the allure of any gains for the national party from appealing to Hispanic voters (or, at least, by not continuing to do things unappealing to Hispanic voters).

On "Face the Nation" two weeks ago, host Bob Schieffer pointed out the conservative and non-minority composition of many GOP districts, adding he's "noticed over the years that when politicians of either party are given the choice between personal survival and party survival, they usually choose personal."

Republicans' districts average just 10 percent Hispanic voting age population. (By contrast, Democrats' districts average more than twice that, on average.) There simply aren't many Hispanic voters for many of these members to appeal to.

Here's the kicker: even the handful of GOP districts that do have a sizeable Hispanic share (greater than 20 percent) are not even swing districts. They have a CBS average partisan rating of +9 so Republicans don't usually need the Hispanic voters in them, anyway.

All told, this is only 14 percent of their conference, or 32 seats. There are some - particularly in Texas, California, and perhaps Florida - where a GOP House member might breathe a little easier if they got more of the Hispanic vote, but those are not numerous enough that those members can force the conference.

No one is saying the House can't pass immigration reform. The question is: Can it pass something with a path to citizenship for those immigrants in the country illegally, which is a requirement of the Senate Democrats and the president?

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    Anthony Salvanto is CBS News elections director