GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team

GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team
© Greg Nash

Momentum is building for an insurgent effort by centrist Republicans to force immigration votes on the House floor despite GOP leadership’s attempt to tamp down the rebellion. 

The unfolding legislative battle is a nightmare for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse immigration fight could boost vulnerable Republicans Putting the 'I' in president Republicans are strongly positioned to win Congress in November MORE (R-Wis.) and his lieutenants, because it exposes a fervent intraparty split in the GOP and pits leadership against many of the politically vulnerable members that are key to saving the Republican majority this fall. 

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A pair of GOP lawmakers on Wednesday signed on to a discharge petition that would set up a series of votes on immigration bills on the House floor later this year. The move came just hours after party leaders pleaded with rank-and-file members to stand down.

Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoDischarge petition efforts intensify as leadership seeks unity Republicans fear retribution for joining immigration revolt GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team MORE (R-N.Y.), a leader of the moderate Tuesday Group, and Rep. Dave TrottDavid Alan TrottGOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team Pelosi: GOP discharge-petition holdouts helping Ryan ‘save face’ Two more Republicans back immigration discharge petition MORE (R-Mich.), who is retiring from Congress, both signed their names to the petition, becoming the 19th and 20th Republicans to do so.

Now, just five more Republican signatures are needed to force the immigration votes if all 193 Democrats join the effort.

“We will have more Republicans signing on this week, and a lot more Democrats signing on. I am confident we all have the votes we need,” said Rep. Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamGOP nearing end game on immigration votes Centrists on cusp of forcing immigration votes as petition grows Jim Jordan as Speaker is change America needs to move forward MORE (R-Calif.), who is leading the effort with Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloElection fears recede for House Republicans 2018 midterms: The blue wave or a red dawn? GOP nearing end game on immigration votes MORE (R-Fla.) and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdThree House Dems say they'll oppose immigration floor vote over possible wall funding Primary victories fuel new 'Year of the Woman' for Dems Immigration petition hits 204 as new Republican signs on MORE (R-Texas). All three lawmakers are facing challenging elections this fall.

Denham added, “I’m not saying when our timeline is. I’m saying we have enough commitments to make sure we’re going to be successful.”

The coming days will see a battle for those remaining five votes. Denham and Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonGOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team GOP leaders huddle with discharge petition backers, opponents Leaders warn Republicans against forcing immigration vote MORE (R-Mich.), who are leading the discharge whip operation, will be targeting those who have spoken favorably of the “Dreamer” issue but have yet to sign.

But those same Republicans are being whipped by GOP leadership not to sign. Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyIvanka Trump to campaign for Devin Nunes in California Republicans are strongly positioned to win Congress in November Election fears recede for House Republicans MORE (R-Calif.) reiterated during a closed-door meeting with Republicans on Wednesday that such a petition effectively cedes control of the floor to Democrats.

McCarthy’s warning to GOP colleagues was even more dire: If a discharge petition goes forward, he said, it could cost Republicans the House majority in the November midterm elections.

“I disagree with his assessment, but there were a number of members of leadership that were expressing those concerns,” said Denham, who represents an agriculture-heavy district in the Central Valley. 

Among the targeted lawmakers are retiring Reps. Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondoCongress — when considering women’s health, don’t forget about lung cancer GOP revolts multiply against retiring Ryan GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team MORE (R-N.J.) and Joe BartonJoe Linus BartonHillicon Valley: Judge rules Trump can't block Twitter users | ISIS content finds a home on Google Plus | Rubio rips ZTE demands as 'terrible deal' | Bill would protect kids' data Lawmakers roll out bill to protect children from online data collection GOP dissidents on cusp of forcing immigration votes MORE (R-Texas), along with moderate Reps. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerFBI head warns against Trump deal with ZTE GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team Hillicon Valley: Senate votes to save net neutrality | Senate panel breaks with House, says Russia favored Trump in 2016 | Latest from Cambridge Analytica whistleblower | Lawmakers push back on helping Chinese tech giant MORE (R-Ill.), Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartKoch-backed group to target some Republicans over spending vote in new ad campaign Conservatives leery of FBI deal on informant GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team MORE (R-Utah), Bruce PoliquinBruce Lee PoliquinGOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team GOP House super PAC reserves million in fall TV ads Major GOP super PAC expands field offices to 31 districts MORE (R-Maine), Dan NewhouseDaniel (Dan) Milton NewhouseRepublicans fear retribution for joining immigration revolt GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team McCarthy dismisses push for vote on immigration bills MORE (R-Wash.), David YoungDavid Edmund YoungGOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team Bipartisan 'No Labels' group aims to protect moderates in primary fights Lawmakers trade barbs, torch Trump at DC soiree MORE (R-Iowa) and Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedGOP nearing end game on immigration votes Centrists on cusp of forcing immigration votes as petition grows GOP dissidents on cusp of forcing immigration votes MORE (R-N.Y.), co-chairman of the Problem Solvers Caucus. 

Other possible signers, such as Reps. David JoyceDavid Patrick JoyceGOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team Conservatives warn leadership to stay out of Ohio GOP primary House rejects measure to set up panel to investigate chaplain's dismissal MORE (R-Ohio) and Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastAbortion rights group launches M campaign to help Dems take back the House Trump to nominate acting VA secretary to lead department GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team MORE (R-Fla.), say they stand in solidarity with pro-immigration backers; they just don’t like the legislative procedures that are being used.

“That is not a tactic I think we should employ,” Joyce, a member of the Tuesday Group, told The Hill.

Vulnerable Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockTax law supporters rally for Republicans in tough races Congress — when considering women’s health, don’t forget about lung cancer GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team MORE (R-Va.), a close leadership ally, said she’s against discharge petitions in general but added that she expects Congress to move on immigration soon.

“I think we’ve got to get everybody in a room and keep working on this like we’ve been trying to,” she said.

The backers of the discharge petition are desperate to vote on legislation to help recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program before the midterms. Trump is ending the Obama-era program that allows immigrants came to the United States illegally as children to live, work and attend school without fear of deportation.

But the courts have blocked Trump from rescinding DACA, taking away the original March 5 deadline — and the sense of urgency — for Congress to come up with a permanent solution.

GOP leaders assured members during Wednesday’s conference meeting that they are still working to bring an immigration bill to the floor. Under new pressure, Ryan and McCarthy met with Trump at the White House on Tuesday to try to come up with legislation that would have the backing of Republicans, Democrats and the president.

“We don’t want to advance something that won’t become law and just get vetoed even if it made it to the president’s desk,” Ryan told reporters Wednesday. “We want to advance something that has a chance of going into law that the president supports.”

After the petition hit its 20th signature, the top four members of leadership — along with Deputy Whip Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryGOP revolts multiply against retiring Ryan House rejects farm bill as conservatives revolt GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team MORE (R-N.C.) — huddled with both the discharge backers and opponents in separate meetings on Wednesday night. 

Curbelo, Upton and Denham said leaders kicked around some ideas for an immigration bill. Curbelo emphasized that they aren’t on the edge of a deal yet, but described the meeting as “productive” and “moving in the right direction.” 

“Clearly we have had a positive impact on leadership and on this institution, because now this issue is being taken seriously,” Curbelo told reporters outside of Ryan’s office. “We have our plan, we’re sticking to it, but we’re willing to see what theirs looks like.”

But if leadership does not bring immigration legislation to the floor in the coming weeks, more Republicans have warned they may sign the petition.

“I do reserve the right to, if leadership doesn’t keep their word and bring some bills to the floor pretty quickly,” said Barton, who is a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act. 

If the effort does secure 218 signatures, there is little Ryan and his top lieutenants can do to stop the effort. But there are a few options that discharge opponents are pressing them to use.

A House rule says discharge petitions can only be considered on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. So one idea is to have Ryan cancel those days that the House is in session — a move that would enrage discharge backers.

The other controversial idea, pushed by members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, is to have Ryan bring up a standalone vote on a more conservative immigration bill sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteGOP nearing end game on immigration votes Three House Dems say they'll oppose immigration floor vote over possible wall funding House GOP sets three FBI interviews in Clinton probe MORE (R-Va.) and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulImmigration petition hits 204 as new Republican signs on Trump officials brief Congress on election cyber threats behind closed doors This week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure MORE (R-Texas). Lawmakers say that would effectively kill the discharge petition because it calls for votes on various immigration bills — including Goodlatte-McCaul.

Supporters of the petition could just file a new petition, but it would force them to restart the clock. They also would lose at least one signature, because former Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — How long can a Trump-DOJ accord survive? Former GOP Rep. Charlie Dent joins CNN Budget chairman Womack eyes appropriations switch MORE (R-Pa.) has left Congress since signing the petition.

“We are nervous that we think this immigration thing is coming quickly,” said Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanCentrists on cusp of forcing immigration votes as petition grows Jim Jordan as Speaker is change America needs to move forward Hannity endorses Jim Jordan for Speaker MORE (R-Ohio), a Freedom Caucus leader. “So we’re trying to figure out ways we can do right on immigration.”

Some Freedom Caucus members said they would be willing to back a pending GOP farm bill if Ryan agrees to put the standalone bill from Goodlatte and McCaul on the floor to derail the discharge petition. 

While leadership wants to pass the farm bill, a vote on the Goodlatte-McCaul legislation — which does not have the votes to pass now — could be politically embarrassing and force members to take a position on a bill that has little chance to become law this year.

It’s unclear whether leadership is seriously considering the idea; Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsFreedom Caucus chairman: Who was FBI informant reporting to? GOP nearing end game on immigration votes White House lawyer’s presence at FBI meetings sets off alarm bells for Dems MORE (R-N.C.) and several other members met with leaders on Wednesday night.

And Denham pointed out that the idea would only work if enough GOP lawmakers agreed to support the rule allowing the Goodlatte-McCaul  bill to come to the floor. Democrats routinely vote against such procedural motions.

“If they’re going to bring up a bill, that bill also has to come up on a rule first,” Denham said, “and I don’t think the rule would have enough votes.”