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 RyanSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Kelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Lobbying world 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 TrottGOP doubles female recruits for congressional races GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team Pelosi: GOP discharge-petition holdouts helping Ryan ‘save face’ 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 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 (R-Calif.), who is leading the effort with Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloMueller indictments: Congressional candidate asked Russian operatives for info on opponent Lawmakers discuss efforts to boost Latino entrepreneurship On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump suggests China is easing pressure on North Korea because of trade fight | Mulvaney taps top aide as No. 2 at consumer bureau | House Republican to offer bill to curtail Trump's trade powers MORE (R-Fla.) and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdDespite clarification, Trump's Russia remarks put intel chiefs in tough spot GOP rep: Putin delivered ‘classic disinformation’ in conference with Trump GOP lawmaker: Trump is 'getting played by' a former KGB agent 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 UptonHouse GOP struggles to win votes for compromise immigration measure Clinton advocates 'sane gun laws' at Robert Kennedy memorial Facebook investor compares company’s handling of user data to 'human rights violation' 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 McCarthyHouse GOP reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE Pelosi: 'The Russians have something on the president' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments 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 LoBiondoGOP campaign arm withdraws support from NJ House candidate who made racist statements GOP runs into Trump tax law in New Jersey 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 MORE (R-N.J.) and Joe BartonJoe Linus BartonLatina Leaders to Watch 2018 Unending Pruitt controversies leave Republicans frustrated Hillicon 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 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 StewartGOP advances bill demanding documents from FBI GOP lawmaker: Trump could reverse policy of separating families if he wanted to Utah’s leaders try to control Endangered Species Act, take lazy way on traffic planning MORE (R-Utah), Bruce PoliquinBruce Lee PoliquinCook shifts House race of lawmaker who bought multimillion dollar yacht away from GOP Overnight Health Care: Trump officials want more time to reunite families | Washington braces for Supreme Court pick | Nebraska could be next state to vote on Medicaid expansion Ryan-aligned PAC launches ads touting House-passed opioid bills MORE (R-Maine), Dan NewhouseDaniel (Dan) Milton NewhouseGOP will vote on immigration next week, sinking discharge petition GOP staves off immigration revolt — for now Republicans fear retribution for joining immigration revolt MORE (R-Wash.), David YoungDavid Edmund YoungFormer Sanders campaign aide comes up short in congressional bid Six takeaways from 2018's Super Tuesday Female Dems dominate in two competitive Iowa House races MORE (R-Iowa) and Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedHouse GOP reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE Jordan weathering political storm, but headwinds remain GOP lawmaker's campaign team installs tracker to find person taking down his signs 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 MastDem, GOP groups prepare spending blitz for midterms Abortion rights group launches M campaign to help Dems take back the House Trump to nominate acting VA secretary to lead department 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 ComstockDemocrats can kiss swing voters goodbye with progressive ballot The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Dramatic battle looms after Kennedy’s retirement Election Countdown: Kennedy retirement shakes up midterms | Big primary night for progressives | Fallout from Crowley's defeat | Trump flexes his muscles in GOP primaries | The Hill's Latina Leaders spotlights 2018 candidates 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 McHenryOn 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 Musical instrument manufacturer threatens to move overseas due to Trump tariffs This week: House GOP caught in immigration limbo 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 GoodlatteDems try to end hearing on bias against conservatives in tech Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page gets closed-door grilling from House Republicans 5 takeaways from wild hearing with controversial FBI agent MORE (R-Va.) and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulOvernight 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 Hillicon Valley: Justices uphold Trump travel ban | Tech's response | Accused NSA leaker enters guilty plea | Dems press for more info on OPM breach | Senators press Trump to uphold ZTE ban | New hacking threat to satellites 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 DentEx-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups Dem, GOP groups prepare spending blitz for midterms Fortenberry named chairman of legislative appropriations subcommittee in House 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 JordanFormer OSU wrestlers sue university over sex abuse allegations Freedom Caucus lawmakers call on DOJ to probe Rosenstein allegations Lawsuit alleges USA Diving ignored sexual abuse of divers 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 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.) 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.”