This week: GOP faces make-or-break moment on immigration
© Greg Nash

House Republicans are facing a make-or-break moment on immigration as they return to Washington this week.

GOP members will huddle in the Capitol on Thursday for a two-hour conference meeting designed to reach a consensus on the hot-button issue. If none emerges, then more Republicans are expected to sign on to a discharge petition that would force a series of contentious immigration votes on the House floor as early as June 25.

Before lawmakers left town for the Memorial Day recess, two more Republicans endorsed the petition — meaning just two more GOP signatures are needed to reach the magic number of 218 if all Democrats sign on.

"We're adding votes every single day. We're engaged in conversations to figure out, is there another path? I don't believe there is," Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdFirst Democrat jumps into key Texas House race to challenge Gonzales Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Congress drawn into pipeline cyberattack, violence in Israel MORE (Texas), one of the moderate Republicans leading the discharge petition effort, told CBS's “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

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Republicans leaders, who have been scrambling to quell the internal rebellion, are hoping to broker an alternative deal to allow floor votes on immigration measures that are controlled by leadership and satisfy competing factions in their restive conference.

The dispute has centered largely on what legal protections should be extended to those living in the country illegally, and to whom they should apply — thorny enough questions on their own.

But the leaders’ effort was further complicated when President Trump warned that he'd veto any bill to shore up the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program if it fails to fund his favored wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Any legislation that doesn’t have the support of the president would likely be dead on arrival in the Senate, even though the White House’s immigration plan garnered only 39 votes in February.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Pelosi says GOP senators 'voted to aid and abet' voter suppression for blocking revised elections bill Manchin insists he hasn't threatened to leave Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) is closing the door on holding another freewheeling debate after the chamber used up a week of floor time but failed to pass legislation earlier this year.

“If there’s a bill that clears the House that President TrumpDonald TrumpGrant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Super PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal MORE indicates he would sign, then I’ll give it serious consideration because then we would be making a law and not just spinning our wheels for a week or so. I can’t afford to do that,” McConnell told Fox News.

Immigration has largely fallen to the back burner in the Senate after its failed debate earlier this year and with the program tied up in the court system. But GOP Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordBill requiring companies report cyber incidents moves forward in the Senate Manchin's 'red line' on abortion splits Democrats Lankford draws second GOP primary challenger in Oklahoma MORE (Okla.) noted late last month that there is a group of senators “meeting quietly” to try to figure out an agreement.

Trade

Republicans will be returning to Washington for the first time since Trump sparked widespread backlash by moving forward with steep steel and aluminum tariffs against the Europe Union (EU), Canada and Mexico.

The move roiled key trading partners, who warning they will impose retaliatory tariffs, and frustrated congressional Republicans, who are worried tariffs would rattle the markets months before a midterm election.

Trump defended his decision, saying the United States must be “treated fairly” and warning against “stupid trade.”  

Foreshadowing the looming battle between Trump and Capitol Hill, key Republican lawmakers are taking a new look at how to counter Trump’s trade policies.

GOP Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (Tenn.) said over the weekend that he is working with “like-minded Republican senators” to press back against trade decision.

“I am working with like-minded Republican senators on ways to push back on the president using authorities in ways never intended and that are damaging to our country and our allies. Will Democrats join us?” Corker added in a tweet.

Meanwhile, GOP Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote MORE (Pa.) said he would sign on to legislation from GOP Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeCawthorn, Lee introduce bills banning interstate travel vaccine mandate Retreating economy creates new hurdle for Democrats in 2022 McConnell vows GOP won't help raise debt ceiling in December after Schumer 'tantrum' MORE (Utah) that would bolster congressional oversight of trade policy.

“Congress should assert its constitutional responsibility and lead on trade policy so Americans keep access to affordable goods and services, and the opportunity to sell our products abroad,” Toomey said in a string of tweets explaining his decision to support the bill.

If passed, the bill would require congressional approval for Trump’s trade actions, including tariffs.

Toomey’s decision underscores growing GOP frustration with the administration's recent policies, including a separate decision to explore tariffs on imported autos and discussions about lifting restrictions on Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE.

Both Ryan and McConnell distanced themselves from the administration’s decision to slap the steel and aluminum tariffs on the EU, Canada and Mexico.

McConnell, speaking at an event in Kentucky, urged the administration to “pull back from the brink” on tariffs and warned Trump against starting a “trade war.”

But there are few signs that GOP leadership is willing to try to pass legislation that would restrict Trump’s authority to implement tariffs.

“Under the trade law, the president has pretty much all the ability to do these things, so there’s not much we can do to impact it. It’s really an executive branch activity. ... It’s just that I think many of us feel that it shouldn’t be done," McConnell told Insider Louisville.

August recess

McConnell is expected to make an announcement this week about the fate of the August recess.

Senate Republicans are under intense pressure from conservatives, including those within their own caucus, and the Trump administration to curb at least part of the four-week recess in order to confirm more of the president’s nominees and make progress on funding the government.

The Senate is currently scheduled to leave town on Aug. 3 and not return until to Washington until after Labor Day weekend.

McConnell has hinted that he's weighing cutting short the four-week recess, telling Fox News that he’s told lawmakers that "I wouldn’t buy any nonrefundable tickets.”

GOP senators, while noting the decision is ultimately up to McConnell, are signaling they expect to have at least part of the August recess canceled.

Asked about the break before the Senate left for a weeklong Memorial Day recess, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, predicted that "we're going to be here for a while."

GOP Sen. James Lankford (Okla.) separately told the "Brian Kilmeade Show" late last week that McConnell has warned senators not to make plans.

"Mitch announced to us last week everybody don't make plans in August. Assume we're going to be here," he said.

WRDA

With Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan on ice, the House will turn to a waterways bill designed to revitalize some of the nation’s aging infrastructure.

Lawmakers will consider bipartisan legislation on Wednesday that would authorize a number of infrastructure projects around the country, including those to boost U.S. ports, dams, locks and waterways.

Renewing the Water Resources Development Act every two years has been a top priority for retiring Rep. Bill ShusterWilliam (Bill) Franklin ShusterLobbying firm cuts ties to Trent Lott amid national anti-racism protests Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR MORE (R-Pa.), the outgoing chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The panel has released three waterways bill with Shuster at the helm.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved its own bipartisan water infrastructure bill last month.

Appropriations

The House is expected to take up a “minibus” as Republicans aim to avoid passing another mammoth omnibus bill to fund the government later this year.

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to debate the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act on Tuesday and consider amendments on Wednesday.

The legislation, which combines multiple stand-alone funding bills, could then come to the House floor a vote in the back half of the week.

Conservatives and the Trump administration are pressuring leadership to avoid jamming through another omnibus bill — which folds the 12 individual appropriations bill into one piece of legislation — after Trump threatened to veto a massive funding bill passed in March.

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act and the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act on Thursday.

Nominations

The Senate is poised to confirm another slate of nominations for Trump.

Before leaving for the Memorial Day recess, McConnell teed up votes on three judicial nominations: Robert Weir to be a district judge for eastern Kentucky, Fernando Rodriguez Jr. to be a district judge for southern Texas and Annemarie Carney Axon to be a district judge for northern Alabama.

The Senate will take a procedural vote on the first of the nominations on Monday at 5:30 p.m.