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House GOP pushes hard-line immigration plan as Senate deals fail

House GOP pushes hard-line immigration plan as Senate deals fail

House GOP leaders are forging ahead with their own hard-line immigration bill, as the Senate threw in the towel Thursday on legislation to protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation. 

The main author of the House bill, Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteJustice to provide access to Comey memos to GOP lawmakers House Judiciary Dem mocks GOP Comey subpoena GOP chairman poised to subpoena DOJ for Comey memos MORE (R-Va.), said Thursday that he’s building support for his measure, even as other GOP colleagues said an initial vote tally this week was well below the 218 votes needed to pass the bill. 

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFreedomWorks backs Jim Jordan for House Speaker House, Senate GOP compete for cash Some doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP MORE’s (R-Wis.) “instructions to me are ‘get this bill done,’ and we’re working hard to accomplish that,” Goodlatte said in an interview for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program.

Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyFreedomWorks backs Jim Jordan for House Speaker The Hill's 12:30 Report Some doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP MORE (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseThe Hill's 12:30 Report Some doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-La.) “are all in to get that done and we’re going to work very hard,” Goodlatte said, adding that his Securing America’s Future Act has White House approval.

“I feel good about it,” Goodlatte said.

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Even if the House could pass the Goodlatte bill, there are clear signs the legislation would be dead on arrival in the Senate. The measure is further to the right than a conservative immigration proposal backed by the White House that overwhelmingly failed in the Senate on Thursday, 39 to 60.

The difficult odds facing the Goodlatte framework underscore the challenge for Republicans as they vow to find a permanent fix for the so-called Dreamers (young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children) — a complex, emotional and highly personal legislative issue — but have yet to identify a plan that can pass both the House and the Senate.

“Clearly we’ve got some divides within our conference,” Scalise told The Hill. “With a bill like this, there’s always work to do. And we’re in the process of doing that.”

But even some conservatives who say they would ultimately support the hard-line approach wouldn’t mind if the issue does not end up getting resolved. 

“I don’t have a hard and fast view on the Goodlatte bill and whether it should come up for a vote,” said Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksRepublicans express doubts that Ryan can stay on as Speaker Top GOP lawmakers jockeying to replace Ryan if he steps down: report 25 House Republicans defy leadership in key spending bill vote MORE (R-Ala.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “I’ve got a mild preference because it keeps leadership’s commitment, but if it doesn’t, I’m not disturbed about it.” 

“I think the president should enforce the laws that are on the books and aggressively deport illegal aliens who are here on American soil,” he added. 

GOP leaders agreed to start whipping the Goodlatte measure this week amid growing pressure from House conservatives, who were worried about getting stuck with a bipartisan immigration bill from the Senate that would not be tough enough for their standards. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republicans push Mulvaney, Trump to rescind Gateway funds Pruitt spent K flying aides to Australia to prep for later-canceled visit: report Rosenstein told Trump he is not a target of Mueller probe: report MORE is ending the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and gave Congress until March 5 to come up with a permanent legal fix, but an agreement on how to do that has so far divided Republicans.

Scalise informed the GOP conference during a meeting this week that the whip count on the Goodlatte bill came back below the 218 votes needed, according to a source in the room.

Leaders are still working to build support for the measure, sending bill sponsors back to the drawing board to explore whether they can make changes to win over more Republicans.

But some members say the House might not feel as much urgency to act if the Senate can’t get anything over the finish line. They also said that recent court rulings blocking Trump from ending DACA have taken away some of the pressure to move quickly. 

“There’s no question it becomes less immediate,” said Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeMcCarthy faces obstacles in Speaker bid This week: House GOP plots path forward Ryan leaves legacy of tax cuts and deficits MORE (R-Okla.). 

Ryan and his team have repeatedly emphasized that they are committed to solving DACA, but they have not outlined leadership’s plan for an immigration bill if the Goodlatte measure can’t get enough GOP support to pass.

Goodlatte’s plan would provide DACA recipients with a temporary, renewable legal status — rather than citizenship — in exchange for authorizing funding for Trump’s border wall, ending family-based migration and scrapping the diversity visa lottery program.

The Goodlatte plan also includes tough border-enforcement measures: The bill would crack down on so-called sanctuary cities, boost penalties for deported criminals who try to re-enter the U.S. and require that employers use an electronic verification system known as E-Verify to make sure they hire legal workers.

But the proposal has run into several pockets of opposition in the GOP conference. Immigration hawks think it doesn’t go far enough, moderates want a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and members who represent the agricultural industry worry it will disrupt the labor force.

Goodlatte already made some tweaks to appease the agricultural industry's concerns over the guest worker program that is established by the legislation.

But lawmakers from agricultural regions say the changes aren’t enough. Rep. Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamLawmakers consider provision banning killing of dogs, cats for food Dems: Ryan ‘sole impediment’ to DACA deal GOP House super PAC reserves million in fall TV ads MORE (R-Calif.), who represents the Golden State’s agriculture-heavy Central Valley, said he’s still opposed to the bill because the cap on seasonal workers is still too low and the “touchback” provisions do not provide strong enough guarantees workers will be able to come back to the U.S. once they return to their home countries.

Ryan’s options on immigration are limited, given that he promised to put an immigration measure on the floor only if it has a majority of the GOP’s support and only if Trump would sign it.

Lawmakers acknowledge that the Goodlatte bill wasn’t going to pass the Senate, but they wanted to have a strong starting point in the DACA negotiations if there was a conference — a scenario that now looks far less likely. 

“I think we have an obligation to move bills, as we always do, but it is nonsensical to suggest that if the Senate can’t produce a bill, that comprehensive immigration is moving to the president’s desk,” said Rep. Rob WoodallWilliam (Rob) Robert WoodallMcConnell, Schumer tap colleagues to explore budget reform Ryan, Pelosi name members to new budget and pension committees House GOP pushes hard-line immigration plan as Senate deals fail MORE (R-Ga.), who supports the Goodlatte framework.

“Some of these votes are tough votes. But you want to take a tough vote that is going to matter.”

Democrats and even some Republicans will certainly continue to fight to resolve DACA by the next government funding deadline on March 23, when Democratic support will be needed to pass an omnibus spending bill. 

“We’re still serious about trying to get to a common position here,” said Cole, a senior appropriator. “Eyes are turning pretty rapidly to the omnibus.”