House GOP leaders not whipping conservative immigration bill

House GOP leaders not whipping conservative immigration bill
© Greg Nash

Republican leaders say they are not currently whipping a conservative immigration bill in the House, despite a promise made to the conservative House Freedom Caucus earlier this month to win their support for the last government funding bill.

Instead, leaders are in the process of holding “listening sessions” to educate the rest of the GOP conference about the tough border enforcement bill authored by Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteWill Congress ever hold our federal agencies accountable for contempt? Lots of love: Charity tennis match features lawmakers teaming up across the aisle Dems try to end hearing on bias against conservatives in tech MORE (R-Va.), which reflects a basket of conservative immigration priorities and has buy-in from key committee chairmen.

The legislation is further to the right than the immigration plan outlined by the White House last week.

“There’s no whipping going on on that,” said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse leaders clash over resolution backing ICE House backs resolution expressing support for ICE House GOP reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE MORE (R-Calif.), who controls the House floor schedule. “But what [Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseOvernight Energy: Proposed rule would roll back endangered species protections | House passes Interior, EPA spending | House votes to disavow carbon tax House votes to disavow carbon tax Why the rush to condemn a carbon tax? MORE (R-La.)] is doing, he’s doing listening sessions so everybody understands what’s in the bill as well.”

Scalise's spokesman emphasized that listening sessions are a critical first step in the process of building support for the legislation, which is necessary before it can be brought to the House floor.

"Just like with tax reform, the Whip is hosting pre-markup listening sessions to educate and take input from members in order to produce a bill that earns 218 votes on the House floor," Saclise's spokesman said. "In other words, this is regular order, and it’s exactly how you grow the vote on big legislation like this."

To win conservative support for the last short-term government funding bill, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) promised the House Freedom Caucus that he would assemble a team to more aggressively whip support for the Goodlatte bill before the next government funding deadline on Feb. 8. Leaders said they would bring it to the House floor only if it could get 218 GOP votes.

But Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsFreedom Caucus lawmakers call on DOJ to probe Rosenstein allegations House GOP questions FBI lawyer for second day Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus MORE (R-N.C.) expressed frustration that there hasn’t been more aggressive action on the Goodlatte bill and questioned whether leadership will hold up their end of the bargain by next week's funding deadline.

"That is at odds with the promises made to multiple members," Meadows said Tuesday, in response to McCarthy's comments.

After a weekly Freedom Caucus meeting on Monday night, Meadows said that his conservative group may not support the next funding bill, pointing to frustrations over the immigration legislation.

“Whipping in words only is not whipping it," he said. “If there is the finger of leadership on the scales to tip something one way or another, that’s not whipping it."

The Goodlatte measure would provide recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with a renewable, three-year legal status in exchange for authorizing border wall funding, ending family-based immigration and eliminating the diversity visa lottery program.

But the measure would not offer DACA recipients a path to citizenship, as outlined in plans pitched by both the White House and a bipartisan group of senators.

McCarthy dismissed concerns that putting the conservative Goodlatte bill on the floor could upset the high-level, bipartisan DACA negotiations that are currently taking place among the No. 2s in leadership.

“There’s so many bills out there,” McCarthy said. “Anything that can get us to a point where if we have to then go to conference or we can get an agreement, either way to get this problem solved, we’re into solving the problem.”

Scott Wong contributed to this report, which was updated at 1:00 p.m.