House Republicans held a two-hour conference meeting Thursday morning on immigration, to determine the fate of moderate members’ efforts to force a vote on several immigration bills. Today was supposed to be the deadline for House leadership to put up or shut up.
And yet, The Hill reports that House Speaker Paul Ryan is kicking the can down the road with yet another delay. GOP staves off immigration revolt — for now:
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday tamped down a Republican insurrection on immigration — at least temporarily — with vows to “put pen to paper” on a compromise bill to protect the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.
During a two-hour, closed-door meeting in the basement of the Capitol, Ryan and other GOP leaders urged their troops not to endorse a procedural move to force votes on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — known as a discharge petition — and instead give leaders more time to forge a compromise that can win 218 Republican votes.
“The next step is to start putting pen to paper and get legislation to the floor,” the Wisconsin Republican told reporters afterwards.
The promise seems to have bought them some time in their search for an elusive DACA deal that can win the support of centrist immigration reformers and conservative hardliners. Indeed, several moderates who have remained open to signing the petition said after the meeting that they’ll refrain from doing so while GOP leaders seek a compromise.
“We’ve still got time, there’s a general outline and they’re putting pen to paper,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), who said he’s waiting to see the details of the bill before making a decision about the petition.
“Today’s not the deadline.”
Still, the window for reaching a deal may be short.
By the obscure rules of the discharge petition, the supporters hoping to ensure DACA votes this month have until June 12 to gather the 218 signatures needed to force the issue to the floor. And while Ryan indicated there’s no official deadline — “Our new deadline is not to have a deadline,” he said — McCarthy seems to be eying next week as a more concrete target.
“That comes down to the 12th, so we’re moving towards getting a bill,” McCarthy told The Hill.
That leaves leadership with just five days to craft legislation they believe can garner 218 GOP votes. Supporters of the petition are two Republican signatures away from the number of members needed to bypass leadership and bring the “Queen of the Hill” rule to the floor.
“We are looking forward to seeing an agreement put on paper,” Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), one of the leading forces behind the discharge petition, told reporters following the meeting. “We finished a very productive meeting. We’ve had a lot of productive meetings, but ultimately this is about writing a bill that makes sense for the country.”
Ryan and other GOP leaders, who have been scrambling to forge a DACA compromise that would make the discharge petition unnecessary, had hoped to have such an agreement finalized to present to the conference at Thursday’s gathering. Indeed, that was the expectation of some of the Republicans going in.
“I thought that myself,” said Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.).
But the talks between leaders, centrists and conservatives seeking such an agreement have failed to bear fruit.
There was “a lot of good discussion,” said, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the Freedom Caucus, “and yet at the same time, there is no consensus.”
Still, Ryan set up a format that avoided confrontation on an issue that’s divided the conference for years.
“The Speaker set exactly the right tone and that is, ‘We’re all Republicans, we are now in the majority and thus we have to demonstrate that we can cooperate in order to do something good,’” said Putin puppet Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.). “I think he struck a tone that all of us felt good about and there’s some open-minded discussion going on right now.”
In a sense, the Republicans — despite almost six years hammering the DACA program and nine months vowing to move legislation to salvage it — are back at square one.
“I still don’t think they have a pathway to get there, and now they’re going to put pen to paper and we’ll see what it looks like,” said Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas).
“I think it’s the beginning of the process.”
In seeking an immigration compromise, GOP leaders are leaning heavily on a four-tiered outline offered by President Trump earlier in the year. That package combines DACA protections with three other features: tougher security, including a border wall; a reduction in family migration; and an end to the diversity visa lottery, which promotes the arrival of people from low-immigration countries around the globe.
The most significant sticking point remains the ongoing disagreement between centrists and conservatives over how — or even whether — Dreamers can attain citizenship rights.
Lawmakers on all sides of the debate said the meeting was cordial. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), who’s signed the discharge petition, said it was the most civil conference gathering he’s attended since arriving in Washington. But it was, by all accounts, also something of a free-for-all, with lawmakers promoting their preferences — and airing their grievances — on issues as diverse as guest workers, and e-verify.
Rohrabacher, for instance, offered a proposal to offer visas to 50,000 immigrants per year — for a $1 million fee. [So visas for 50,000 millionaires? WTF?]
Many of those proposals are non-starters in the current DACA debate, however, and many of the moderate Republicans are growing impatient with their leadership’s inaction, both in staging votes and offering an alternative proposal for propping up DACA.
“The Speaker obviously doesn’t like the discharge petition. That’s fine, bring something to the floor,” said Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), who’s endorsed the petition.
While many members appeared optimistic they could reach a deal that satisfies all factions of the conference, they also noted the pressure on leadership created by the discharge petition remains a factor in the debate.
“Clearly it [the discharge petition] has accomplished a great deal and this never would have occurred without the threat of it,” Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), a petition signer, told the Hill.
“So the threat’s not going to leave,” he added, “so let’s see if there’s a way to resolve it without that. And if not, then this is going to come to a head” [presumably on June 12].
Still, most Republicans walked out of the meeting without a clear idea of what lies ahead.
“It’s just a mystery, still, whether we’ll be able to get the signatures or whether they’ll bring some proposals to the floor,” said Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R-Fla.), another petition signer. “Some of us are really frustrated to not be able to have a vote.”
The Washington Post adds:
“Ultimately, what it comes down to is the citizenship question and how you deal with that,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. “That has been the thorniest issue from the start and remains still the most difficult issue.”
Two Republicans familiar with the talks said Freedom Caucus representatives privately floated a new visa program for DACA recipients that would include a potential path to citizenship. Meadows declined to comment on that claim.
The moderates face a June 12 deadline to complete their “discharge petition,” which is currently
three two signatures short of completion.
It remained unclear whether the leaders of the effort would proceed to collect the final signatures in the coming days. Some moderates who have signed the petition saw notable progress Thursday.
“I think the conversation was productive enough in there that they will delay the discharge petition and continue to work on writing a bill that we can all vote on,” said Rep. Dave Trott (R-Mich.). “I think we’ll see something pretty quickly.”
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Among the attendees Thursday was White House legislative director Marc Short, who said upon leaving that the discussions were headed in a positive direction and warned against the “discharge petition” that the moderates are pursuing.
“A discharge petition turns the House floor over to Nancy Pelosi, which is not ideal for us advancing our agenda,” Short said, referring to the top Democratic House leader.
* * *
One idea that Republicans are exploring is providing a route to citizenship for the young immigrants in exchange for cuts to existing legal immigration programs. That is meant to address conservative objections to the demand from the moderates by ensuring there is no net increase in the number of legal immigrants.
Should the moderates complete the discharge petition, House members would vote on different immigration bills — including two that have significant support among Democrats but have been dismissed by conservative Republicans as offering an unacceptable amnesty.
“Every one of those bills that might come forward has amnesty in it,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a prominent advocate of tighter immigration policies, after leaving Thursday’s meeting. “When you reward lawbreakers, you’re destroying the rule of law.”
Most likely scenario: there will be no GOP consensus bill on which all factions, and the Trump administration, can agree. So it will come down to whether there are two more members of Congress willing to sign the discharge petition and force a revolt next week against their GOP leadership and bring the “Queen of the Hill” rule to the floor. Even with this procedural rule, there is no guarantee that any one bill will have enough votes for passage.