Tensions on immigration erupt in the House GOP

House Republican leaders are scrambling to stop an effort by rank-and-file members to force votes on immigration, with lawmakers openly defying their calls to stand down. 

Centrist Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloOvernight 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 Mueller indictments: Congressional candidate asked Russian operatives for info on opponent MORE (Fla.), Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamKoch group pushes DACA fix on Capitol Hill House GOP reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE House GOP leaders fail to find compromise immigration fix MORE (Calif.) and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHillicon Valley: Trump's Russia moves demoralize his team | Congress drops effort to block ZTE deal | Rosenstein warns of foreign influence threat | AT&T's latest 5G plans GOP lawmaker: Trump is being manipulated by Putin The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia MORE (Texas), all Republicans facing tough reelection races, introduced a discharge petition on Wednesday morning to trigger a series of immigration votes. Discharge petitions are traditionally seen as a serious affront to leadership, making members reluctant to sign on.

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Yet the effort quickly caught fire, gaining new supporters throughout the day. By press time, at least 17 GOP lawmakers had endorsed the petition, just eight short of the 25 Republican votes that would be needed if every Democrat also backed it.

Facing the prospect of a potentially divisive floor debate ahead of the midterm elections, GOP leaders on Wednesday afternoon made a public plea for members to abandon the petition, calling it the wrong approach.

“I don’t believe in discharge petitions. You’re turning the floor over. I think it’s better to use the legislative process,” 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 what bills come to the House floor, told reporters. 

House 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.) said he isn’t actively whipping against the discharge petition, but said he has told lawmakers it’s “not the way to legislate.”

“I’ve talked to some members about the importance of keeping control of the legislative vehicle and solving the problem on our terms where we focus on solutions, not politics,” he said.

In phone calls and one-on-one conversations, members of GOP leadership have been asking centrist Republicans whether they plan to support the petition.

“They are making calls,” one GOP lawmaker backing the petition said.

Some of these conversations have been more aggressive than others.

“I know [GOP leaders] … tried to talk them out of it,” Rep. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanHillicon Valley: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | Sparks fly at hearing on social media | First House Republican backs net neutrality bill | Meet the DNC's cyber guru | Sinclair defiant after merger setback The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump faces bipartisan criticism over Putin presser, blames media for coverage House Republican backs bill to reinstate net neutrality rules MORE (R-Colo.), who has signed on to the petition and is facing a tough reelection race, told The Hill. “The people that told me said that it didn’t change their mind.” 

Scalise and the leadership team says it would be better for members to back an immigration bill authored by Judiciary Committee 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.) and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHillicon Valley: EU hits Google with record B fine | Trump tries to clarify Russia remarks | Sinclair changing deal to win over FCC | Election security bill gets traction | Robocall firm exposed voter data Overnight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart A change is coming to US-Mexico relations MORE (R-Texas). The bill would grant temporary protections to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program while enacting tough illegal immigration enforcement measures and restricting legal immigration.

That legislation, however, has attracted only 95 GOP co-sponsors and no Democrats.  

“In general, discharge petitions are bad legislative tactics because it undermines the majority,” Scalise, who runs the GOP’s vote-counting operation, told The Hill. 

“It would be an approach that would rely on mostly Democratic votes and some Republicans to pass their bill,” Scalise said, “and that’s not the way to solve this problem.”

Since 2002, only two discharge petitions have succeeded.

The most recent was in 2015, when former Rep. Stephen FincherStephen Lee FincherTensions on immigration erupt in the House GOP Trump backs Blackburn's Tennessee Senate bid Corker backs Blackburn for Senate seat after retirement tensions MORE (R-Tenn.) collected enough signatures to force a floor vote renewing the Export-Import Bank. 

The political conditions at the time were unusual. Former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFreedom Caucus members see openings in leadership Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Ex-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups MORE (R-Ohio) had announced his retirement, and Fincher’s move to buck leadership so aggressively was widely considered to have the outgoing Speaker’s tacit support. BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFreedom Caucus members see openings in leadership Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Ex-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups MORE backed the Ex-Im Bank even as other leaders, including McCarthy, opposed it. 

The final vote on the House floor was an overwhelming 313-118.

DACA supporters are hoping that Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi: 'Thug' Putin not welcome in Congress Interior fast tracks study of drilling's Arctic impact: report Dems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia MORE (R-Wis.), who recently announced that he’s not running for reelection, will provide similar cover to Republicans endorsing the Curbelo petition. That could lead to a standoff against McCarthy, a close ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff: Surveillance warrant docs show that Nunes memo 'misrepresented and distorted these applications' Chicago detention facility under investigation following allegations of abuse of migrant children Ex-Trump aide: Surveillance warrants are 'complete ignorance' and 'insanity' MORE, who hopes to replace Ryan atop the party next year.

The arcane rules of the House on discharge petitions have often negated their effectiveness and discouraged members from introducing them. 

Petitions can be filed only after a bill has remained idle in committee for 30 legislative days. Members wishing to sign the document do so on the chamber floor.

If a petition does reach 218 sponsors, the bill still can’t be considered before the passage of seven more legislative days — and it can’t be considered on just any day. Bills discharged in this manner may be considered only on the second or fourth Monday of the month.

Despite the complications, Curbelo said a discharge petition was necessary.

“We wanted to work with our leadership and we knew that they were working this Goodlatte bill. We wanted to give them time to do it even if I was always really skeptical about it. Too much time has passed,” he said.

Along with Curbelo, Denham and Hurd, Reps. Mario Diaz-BalartMario Rafael Diaz-Balart'Minibus' spending conference committee abruptly canceled Trump vows to stand with House GOP '1,000 percent' on immigration Trump immigration comments spark chaos in GOP MORE (R-Fla.) and David ValadaoDavid Goncalves ValadaoImmigration overhaul on life support in the House The Hill's 12:30 Report Cook Political Report shifts 5 races after California, NJ primaries MORE (R-Calif.) signed on as initial co-sponsors for the discharge petition. All are facing competitive races this year, with Curbelo and Denham’s races seen as toss-ups by the Cook Political Report.

Rep. Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenOvernight 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 'Paws for Celebration' event brings rescue animals to the Capitol MORE (R-Fla.) — who is retiring at the end of the year — and Reps. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveOvernight 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 The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — GOP spars with FBI agent at tense hearing MORE (R-Utah) and John FasoJohn James FasoElection Countdown: Latest on the 2018 Senate money race | Red-state Dems feeling the heat over Kavanaugh | Dem doubts about Warren | Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill | Why Puerto Ricans in Florida could swing Senate race Progressives’ wins highlight divide in Democratic Party Delgado wins Dem primary in N.Y. race to unseat Faso MORE (R-N.Y.) also spoke in favor of the petition.

The lawmakers promoting the petition said they have been careful to keep leadership in the loop so as not to create a division within the GOP conference.

Denham informed Ryan on Tuesday that he planned to move forward with the discharge petition because he doesn’t “want any surprises,” he said.

But Ryan told him the discharge petition could end up allowing passage of legislation that’s ultimately vetoed by Trump, an argument that irks its supporters.

“It’s impossible to say the president will veto all these bills when the bills haven’t been finalized,” Curbelo said.

“This process will give the authors the opportunity to amend their laws, to modify them before presenting them, and it gives the Speaker of the House the opportunity to go to the White House, negotiate a bill and to present that bill. So that argument makes no sense,” he added.

The discharge petition would specifically force a vote on a “Queen of the Hill” rule that would lead to votes on a series of competing immigration proposals, one of which would be of Ryan’s choosing. Whichever measure won the most votes would be the legislation approved by the House.

The four proposals are all intended to be legislative replacements for DACA, which Trump rescinded in September.

Under DACA, about 690,000 “Dreamers” — immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as minors — were protected from deportation and allowed to work and go to school in the United States.

The Queen of the Hill rule that the GOP lawmakers have been pursuing would have the House choose between the hard-line proposal from Goodlatte; the DREAM Act, a proposal that would give a path to citizenship to 1.8 million Dreamers; the USA Act, a measure that would pair the Dream Act with $25 billion in border security funding; and Ryan’s proposal.

When it was introduced, the proposal quickly attracted a majority of the House, garnering 248 co-sponsors, including 52 Republicans.

Yet some of the Republican supporters of the Queen of the Hill rule have yet to back the discharge petition. 

“I believe in Denham’s bill. I’m a co-sponsor to the bill but I don’t believe in discharge petitions,” said Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) Thomas KingWashington big names celebrate launch of Hill.TV The Hill's Morning Report — Trump denigrates NATO allies, floats 4 percent solution ‘Unmasking Antifa Act' includes 15-year prison term proposal MORE (R-N.Y.). 

“Not at this stage, anyway,” he added.

Rep. Glenn ThompsonGlenn (G.T.) W. ThompsonOvernight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — Trump officials move to expand non-ObamaCare health plans | 'Zero tolerance' policy stirs fears in health community | New ObamaCare repeal plan Tensions on immigration erupt in the House GOP Technical education struggles to gain funding traction MORE (R-Pa.) not only rejected the discharge petition, but said he now wants to remove his name as a co-sponsor of the original Queen of the Hill resolution.

“My philosophy is, I don’t want just any immigration solution,” he said. “It has to be something that addresses agriculture’s needs, as well as some other righteous, important needs.”

Still, even Republicans who don’t support the effort to force a vote have grown tired of waiting.

“I think we’re past deadlines. Before we break for summer we really have to solve this issue, with DACA in particular,” said Rep. Tom MacArthurThomas (Tom) Charles MacArthurGOP runs into Trump tax law in New Jersey Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral Key Republican says House taking targeted approach to combating opioid epidemic MORE (R), who is facing a competitive race in New Jersey.

Mike Lillis, Melanie Zanona and Juliegrace Brufke contributed.