The mythical moderate Republican caucus has disappeared every time the House has taken a vote that could derail the House GOP leadership's shutdown strategy. For Van Hollen and others, using a discharge petition to bring a clean bill to the floor is another chance for Democrats to apply the pressure to those members.
The mechanics are a little complicated, but the essence of it is this: A discharge petition can bring a bill to the House floor for a vote without the acquiescence of House leadership, if a majority of the House signs it. That means with all 200 Democrats and a handful of moderates from the GOP, Speaker John Boehner can be circumvented and the government re-opened.
In theory, the numbers should be there. According to multiple tracking sites, at least 20 Republicans have said they support a clean bill. That's enough to put a discharge petition over the top, if they all sign it.
But, as Van Hollen intimated, some of those moderates don't appear ready to walk the walk. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), one of the more outspoken supporters of a clean spending bill, said Sunday that he wouldn't support the discharge petition and doesn't expect enough other House Republicans to sign it, either.
"It's not going to go anywhere," King said. "The Democrats are not bargaining in good faith. There's no way in the world you're going to get 25 Republicans to go on that."
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), another supposed supporter of the clean bill, said Monday on CNN that he wouldn't support it either.
"I will not sign a discharge petition," Dent said. "We want to resolve this problem prior to the time you could consider that particular bill."
But though House Democrats might not achieve their legislative aim, Van Hollen and company seem content to get King, Dent and others on the record that they aren't willing to take the shutdown fight to its logical extreme.
"These Republican members, who say that they want to have a vote to keep the open government, will now have the opportunity to demonstrate it in deeds," Van Hollen told TPM, "not just words."