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House immigration fight could boost vulnerable Republicans

House immigration fight could boost vulnerable Republicans
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Vulnerable House Republicans are hoping a high-stakes clash with GOP leadership over immigration reform can help them in tough races that could determine the House majority.

Many of the 23 Republicans who signed the discharge petition are facing some of the toughest races on the ballot this November. Meanwhile, securing protections for the so-called “Dreamers” — a key part of the immigration reform push — polls well among the moderates and independents who could cast pivotal votes in these tight elections.

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That creates an incentive for vulnerable Republicans backing the protections to buck leadership by forcing a vote.

“Their constituents want action, particularly on something like [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)]. There’s an intensity in the districts to get something done, and you are supporting a leadership that doesn’t want to move,” said former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), a former head of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“You’re going to stand on your head and do whatever it takes to make sure that the people don’t hold this against you.”

GOP Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloDems see blue 'tsunami' in House as Senate path narrows GOP spokeswoman says Republicans will lose House seats in midterms Cook Political Report shifts 7 more races towards Dems MORE (Fla.) and Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamPoll: Dems lead in 5 critical California House seats Dems announce third-quarter fundraising bonanza Election Countdown: Dems raising millions in fight for House | Trump attacks potential challengers | GOP finalizes 2020 convention plans | Dems see Kavanaugh fight driving women voters to the polls | Bloomberg spending big for Senate Dems MORE (Calif.), both of whom are facing tough races in November, are leading the charge on the Republican side. They’re joined by 21 other Republican lawmakers who are siding with Democrats to force GOP leadership’s hand on immigration with a discharge petition.

The group needs only five more signatures to trigger a series of votes, including one on a plan to protect Dreamers, immigrants who came to America illegally as children. 

Former President Obama’s DACA program offered some of those immigrants protection from deportation and work permits, but President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I don't trust everybody in the White House' JPMorgan CEO withdraws from Saudi conference Trump defends family separations at border MORE moved to end the program in 2017.

The fate of the program remains in limbo for now thanks to a handful of court battles. 

Talking with reporters on Wednesday, Curbelo called Dreamers “victims of the immigration system” and said the group resolutely supports giving these immigrants a “bridge into the legal immigration system.”

Along with Curbelo and Denham, GOP Reps. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanGroup begins 'Nuns on the Bus' tour to protest Trump tax law ahead of midterms Election Countdown: Dems raising millions in fight for House | Trump attacks potential challengers | GOP finalizes 2020 convention plans | Dems see Kavanaugh fight driving women voters to the polls | Bloomberg spending big for Senate Dems GOP sacrifices women and House Republicans with Kavanaugh plan MORE (Colo.), John FasoJohn James FasoElection Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms Limo crash victims included family, friends going to birthday party at brewery Dems announce third-quarter fundraising bonanza MORE (N.Y.), Leonard LanceLeonard LanceMoney can’t buy happiness or elections, but it makes life easier Dems see blue 'tsunami' in House as Senate path narrows Dems announce third-quarter fundraising bonanza MORE (N.J.), Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickGroup begins 'Nuns on the Bus' tour to protest Trump tax law ahead of midterms The Hill's Morning Report — Historic vote on Kavanaugh to come amid protests, anger Dems announce third-quarter fundraising bonanza MORE (Pa.) and Erik PaulsenErik Philip PaulsenHow America’s urban-rural divide is changing the Democratic Party The bipartisan PACT Act would ensure access to life-saving bone marrow transplants for Medicare beneficiaries Dem hopes for House majority run through Minnesota suburbs MORE (Minn.) are the GOP petition-signers who are running in races that the Cook Political Report rates as “toss-ups."

Republican Reps. David ValadaoDavid Goncalves ValadaoIn quest for majority, Dems swarm McCarthy’s home state Dems make big play for House in California Immigration overhaul on life support in the House MORE (Calif.), Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdDems struggle to mobilize Latino voters for midterms Election Countdown: Florida candidates face new test from hurricane | GOP optimistic about expanding Senate majority | Top-tier Dems start heading to Iowa | Bloomberg rejoins Dems | Trump heads to Pennsylvania rally GOP spokeswoman says Republicans will lose House seats in midterms MORE (Texas) and Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveElection Countdown: Florida candidates face new test from hurricane | GOP optimistic about expanding Senate majority | Top-tier Dems start heading to Iowa | Bloomberg rejoins Dems | Trump heads to Pennsylvania rally Dems see blue 'tsunami' in House as Senate path narrows Cook Political Report shifts 7 more races towards Dems MORE (Utah) have also signed the petition. Their seats are rated “lean Republican” by Cook — races that favor the GOP, but could still be tough challenges. 

Many of these districts are home to a significant number of Hispanic residents or DACA recipients.

Curbelo’s district is 70 percent Hispanic, Hurd’s is 68 percent Hispanic and Denham’s is 40 percent Hispanic.

Valadao’s district has more DACA recipients than in any district in the country represented by a Republican, according to data compiled by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress in 2017.

The issue also polls well, which adds to the pressure on lawmakers in moderate districts.

Sixty-five percent of American adults support an immigration deal that trades a path to citizenship for DACA-eligible immigrants in exchange for various more conservative immigration reforms, according to new data shared with The Hill by the Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll. 

Moderates and political independents approve of that compromise by a similar margin, the poll shows.

Conservatives in Congress are warning that bypassing Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcCarthy introduces bill to fully fund Trump's border wall On The Money: McCarthy offers bill to fully fund Trump border wall | US to press China on currency in trade talks | Mnuchin plans to go ahead with Saudi trip | How America's urban-rural divide is changing the Dems Election Countdown: Minnesota Dems worry Ellison allegations could cost them key race | Dems struggle to mobilize Latino voters | Takeaways from Tennessee Senate debate | Poll puts Cruz up 9 in Texas MORE (R-Wis.) will make Republicans look weak. House passage of a DACA bill, they warn, would risk alienating conservative voters and depress GOP turnout in the midterms.

But that’s not necessarily a compelling argument for these lawmakers, who stand to gain from distancing themselves from their party.

“There’s no political cost for most of these members to sign the discharge petition,” said Alex Conant, a GOP strategist and former top aide to Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenators pledge action on Saudi journalist’s disappearance Senators concerned as Trump official disputes UN climate change warning Rubio: Response to death of Saudi journalist 'can't be symbolic' MORE (R-Fla.).

“A lot of these members are in swing districts where they are not worried about criticism from Republican leaders or the White House. In fact, in some cases, it might help.”

Democrats have been warning vulnerable Republicans who haven’t joined the effort to hop on board, arguing they’ll pay a price in November if they don’t.

But Democrats plan to use immigration as a midterm weapon even against Republicans who do sign the discharge petition, pointing to the fact that House leadership tried to block immigration reform to argue Democrats should take control of the Speaker's gavel.

Even as the effort nears the tipping point, it’s unclear how the situation will ultimately end.

The GOP signers say they have more than enough lawmakers ready to sign if GOP leadership won’t budge.

But there’s hope that ongoing negotiations between representatives of various factions within the GOP caucus can settle on a compromise before June 7 — the day that the discharge petition backers say they’ll give a green light to those final signers and force the vote.

As Republicans scramble for the last-minute compromise, former Rep. Davis said that leadership would be wise to set up their most vulnerable members for success in the fall. 

“Republican leadership has to pay attention to their swing districts over the next five months, that will determine whether they have gavels next year or are just wagging their tongues,” he said.

“If they can’t work as a team, voters will throw them out.”