For weeks, House Speaker Paul Ryan has said any deal to shield 700,000 young undocumented people from deportation must be bipartisan.
His GOP conference, however, has another idea entirely.
House Republicans are pressing Ryan for a vote on a partisan immigration bill that has little chance of passing the Senate. They want floor action on legislation by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), which goes well beyond what the White House has said should be in a deal codifying the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program into law — and which is unlikely to garner a single Democratic vote.
“It’s a good bill…I think it’s something that bears consideration by the entire House,” said Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), a former leader of the conservative Republican Study Committee. “If I were the majority leader… I would recommend that we bring it” to the floor.
Ryan and his top lieutenants have not committed to a vote on the Goodlatte bill, which GOP leaders worry could undermine bipartisan negotiations. And they’re not even sure the text could garner the 218 GOP votes needed for passage in the House. Still, he’s risking a backlash from conservatives if he doesn’t put it forward for a vote.
Supporters of the Goodlatte bill have pointed out that it also had input from Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), House Freedom Caucus conservative Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and centrist Martha McSally (R-Ariz.). Backers say leadership shouldn’t ignore a bill with such broad buy-in from GOP heavy-hitters.
“You’ve got both ends of the spectrum, but for whatever reason there seems to be a little bit of internal debate over whether that gets to the floor,” said Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.). “I’m hoping that we get a chance to vote on it.”
The debate about the House strategy comes as a bipartisan group of senators has reached a deal to create a path to citizenship for the so-called Dreamers, after Trump decided last year to end the DACA program and demand a legislative solution instead. Trump, however, has panned the agreement as a “step backwards” and accused Democrats of hindering talks.
Meanwhile, bipartisan agreement seemed even further off after Trump last week told lawmakers behind closed doors that he wanted to encourage immigrants from places such as Norway, not countries that he deemed “shitholes.” The heightened tensions also come as the government is set to run out of money Friday, raising the stakes for deal-making this week.
Immigration is also a particularly thorny issue for Ryan. House Republicans drove out ex-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in part over immigration. Now conservatives are worried Ryan will foist on their conference a bipartisan Senate deal that their base would consider “amnesty” for people who came to the U.S. illegally.
“It’s important that something pass with the majority of the majority on immigration out of the House,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said in an interview. “Just allowing the Senate to lead is yielding our voting card to our Senate colleagues.”
Trump’s flirtation with the Goodlatte proposal complicates things for Ryan. He gave a shout-out to the bill during on-camera negotiations with Democrats last week — one the authors took as an endorsement from the White House.
Sources close to leadership, however, dispute that notion. They say the proposal goes beyond the four areas the White House has said an immigration deal must address: a legislative replacement for the DACA program, border security funding, changes to the way people can bring family members to the U.S. and other visa program adjustments.
The Goodlatte bill meets all those requirements but also would crack down on sanctuary cities, tweak policies governing child migrants and asylum seekers, and require companies to verify the legal status of their workers.
The latter provision, known as E-verify, would put centrist House Republicans in swing districts in a difficult position. Some hail from heavily Hispanic districts where E-verify would disrupt agriculture businesses.
But even if House moderates backed the Goodlatte bill, it’s unlikely to get enough support in the Senate, where Republicans have a slim majority and need 60 votes to pass immigration legislation. Some centrists in the House say it’s pointless to take such a controversial vote.
“Does the Senate even look at this bill? And if they won’t, then what’s the point?” said Rep. Ryan Costello, a centrist from Pennsylvania.
Ryan has not publicly ruled out a House vote on the Goodlatte text — though he has emphasized that any DACA solution needs to be bipartisan. Asked about the bill during a GOP press conference last Thursday, he called the legislation “constructive” and a “good bill” but would not say whether it would get floor time.
Ryan deferred instead to ongoing talks between House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
Nonetheless, the backers of the Goodlatte bill are trying to whip support. The authors presented last week during the weekly Republican Study Committee meeting, and Goodlatte brought up the issue during a closed-door GOP conference last week, asking leaders to allow a vote.
Freedom Caucus member Dave Brat (R-Va.) predicted that the “huge push” to get the bill on the floor would be successful. Labrador, one of its authors, was less confident last week.
Labrador said the “only response I’ve gotten [from leadership] is: ‘Do we have 218 votes?’”
“My response to them is, ‘Did we have 218 votes when we did your health care bill?’” Labrador said, referring to Ryan’s original push to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The bill was pulled from the floor last year when it became clear it did not have enough support to pass.
Eventually, House GOP leaders garnered enough support to pass a modified version of the Obamacare bill, and Labrador said they could do the same with the immigration proposal.
“Their job is to help us with the conference to make sure this happens,” he said. “They should put it on the floor.”
Powered by WPeMatico