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 RyanNew Dem ad uses Paterno, KKK, affair allegations to tar GOP leaders House Dem: Party's aging leaders is 'a problem' Rand Paul to ask Trump to lift sanctions on Russian leaders 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 KatkoProtesters confront Ivanka Trump on family separations Progressives’ wins highlight divide in Democratic Party The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Wild night of primaries reshapes 2018 midterms MORE (R-N.Y.), a leader of the moderate Tuesday Group, and Rep. Dave TrottDavid Alan TrottRecord numbers of women nominated for governor, Congress Key primaries in August will help shape midterms GOP doubles female recruits for congressional races 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 DenhamSteyer group launching 0,000 digital ad campaign targeting millennials The farm bill gives Congress a chance to act on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act Police chief ‘disgusted’ after his son charged in attack of 71-year-old Sikh man MORE (R-Calif.), who is leading the effort with Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloCook Political Report moves 4 GOP seats to 'toss-up' category GOP lawmaker: Every white suburban district in the country will be a swing district this year The Hill's Morning Report — Election Day drama for Trump MORE (R-Fla.) and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdJuan Williams: What does Putin have on Trump? GOP lawmaker: Trump was ‘manipulated’ by Putin Schiff: Trump is acting like someone who is compromised 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 UptonKey primaries in August will help shape midterms Energy security must be high on the agenda Paul Ryan would be ‘perfect fit’ to lead AEI, Republicans say 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 McCarthyNew Dem ad uses Paterno, KKK, affair allegations to tar GOP leaders Internet security expert: 'I don’t think it’s right to say’ tech giants are politically biased Poll: Republicans favor Scalise for Speaker; Dems favor Pelosi 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 LoBiondoDems eyeing smaller magic number for House majority GOP campaign arm withdraws support from NJ House candidate who made racist statements GOP runs into Trump tax law in New Jersey MORE (R-N.J.) and Joe BartonJoe Linus BartonWorst-case scenario for House GOP is 70-seat wipeout Latina Leaders to Watch 2018 Unending Pruitt controversies leave Republicans frustrated MORE (R-Texas), along with moderate Reps. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerSatellite images raise alarms about North Korean nukes Overnight Defense: VA pick breezes through confirmation hearing | House votes to move on defense bill negotiations | Senate bill would set 'stringent' oversight on North Korea talks ‘Stingray’ spying prompts fears about surveillance MORE (R-Ill.), Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartInterior Department should not remove the ovaries of wild horses GOP advances bill demanding documents from FBI GOP lawmaker: Trump could reverse policy of separating families if he wanted to MORE (R-Utah), Bruce PoliquinBruce Lee PoliquinPelosi sees defections from an unusual quarter — the left GOP lawmaker: 'I do not support' impeaching Rosenstein Cook shifts House race of lawmaker who bought multimillion dollar yacht away from GOP MORE (R-Maine), Dan NewhouseDaniel (Dan) Milton NewhouseRecord numbers of women nominated for governor, Congress House GOP refuses to boost funding for election security GOP will vote on immigration next week, sinking discharge petition MORE (R-Wash.), David YoungDavid Edmund YoungThe Hill's 12:30 Report The Hill's Morning Report — GOP seeks to hold Trump’s gains in Midwest states The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s GOP feuds dominate ahead of midterms MORE (R-Iowa) and Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedReforms can stop members of Congress from using their public office for private gain Trump ally suspends reelection campaign Congress should prohibit members from serving on company boards MORE (R-N.Y.), co-chairman of the Problem Solvers Caucus. 

Other possible signers, such as Reps. David JoyceDavid Patrick JoyceThe Hill's 12:30 Report Bipartisan lawmakers agree — marijuana prohibition has failed and it’s time to change the law Cannabis advocates urge lawmakers to tackle tax provision MORE (R-Ohio) and Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastGOP lawmaker appears on right-wing radio show hosted by 'anti-Islam' commentators Latinos aren't reaching top military positions, study shows Dem, GOP groups prepare spending blitz for midterms 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 ComstockElection Countdown: GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket | Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries | Parties fight for Puerto Rican vote in Florida | GOP lawmakers plan 'Freedom Tour' GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket Closing diversity gaps in patenting is essential to innovation economy 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 McHenryRosenstein impeachment push divides House GOP leadership 10 dark horse candidates for Speaker of the House On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Lawmakers demand answers from Mnuchin on tariffs | Fed chief lays out stakes of Trump trade war | Consumer prices rise at highest rate in six years | Feds to appeal AT&T merger ruling 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 GoodlatteFive things to know about Bruce Ohr, the DOJ official under fire from Trump Republicans become entangled by family feuds over politics House GOP prepares to grill DOJ official linked to Steele dossier MORE (R-Va.) and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulWorst-case scenario for House GOP is 70-seat wipeout Hillicon Valley: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sits down with The Hill | Drama over naming DHS cyber office | Fallout over revoking Brennan's security clearance | Google workers protest censored search engine for China Name change eludes DHS cyber wing, spurring frustration 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 DentGOP House candidate placed on leave from longtime position after sexual misconduct allegation Election handicapper moves GOP leader's race to 'toss-up' The Hill's 12:30 Report 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 JordanNew Dem ad uses Paterno, KKK, affair allegations to tar GOP leaders Department of Education launches investigation into OSU sexual abuse allegations Jordan: More Obama-era officials should lose security clearances 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 MeadowsHill.TV poll: Majority of Republicans say Trump best represents the values of the GOP Meadows says FBI made 'right' decision firing Strzok Republicans have spent .5 million at Trump properties since he took office: report 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.”