House conservatives demand vote on tough border bill to avoid shutdown

Members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus are making an eleventh-hour bid to get a floor vote on a conservative immigration bill in exchange for their support on a short-term spending bill, as GOP leaders scramble to secure Republican votes for their proposal to avoid a government shutdown Friday.

While Republican leaders sounded fairly confident Wednesday morning that they would have enough GOP support to pass the continuing resolution (CR), they have little room for error, as Democrats are vowing to oppose any spending bill that doesn’t include relief for immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOcasio-Cortez top aide emerges as lightning rod amid Democratic feud Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller House Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump MORE (R-Wis.) and his top lieutenants are threading a very thin needle as they try to build support among frustrated defense hawks and conservatives for the fourth temporary funding patch since September.

And the House Freedom Caucus, a group of roughly 30 conservative hard-liners, has enough members to defeat legislation if they band together. Leadership can only afford to lose 21 Republican votes, according to the Majority Whip’s office.

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“As of right now they don't have the votes,” Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsLawmakers request documents on DC councilman ethics investigation House Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran MORE (R-N.C.), the group’s chairman, insisted to reporters as he entered a meeting in the Capitol with White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE on Wednesday.

“There is strong support for the House to put forth a vote on immigration, and the Goodlatte-Labrador bill has the most support within the caucus,” Meadows later told The Hill, referring to a measure authored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteImmigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute MORE (R-Va.) and Freedom Caucus member Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho.)

GOP leaders pitched on Tuesday evening a new strategy to avert a shutdown that involves passing a stopgap bill to fund the government through Feb. 16. The CR would be paired with a six-year extension of funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and would delay three ObamaCare taxes in a bid to attract more conservative support.

The measure would not include a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as Democrats have been demanding.

Trump rescinded the Obama-era program last year and gave Congress until March 5 to come up with a permanent legal solution, but bipartisan negotiations on a DACA deal have been stalled following reports of President Trump’s disparaging remarks about “shithole countries.”

That means Ryan will likely need to rely on GOP votes for the CR, with leaders whipping the bill Wednesday afternoon and a floor vote expected Thursday.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the chief deputy whip, was full of confidence as he left a GOP meeting in the Capitol’s basement Tuesday evening, while many rank-and-file members also described the attitude as generally positive toward the spending plan.

The White House expressed support for the continuing resolution Wednesday, which could help sway some undecided voters.

“I can’t swear to it, but the tone sounds pretty good,” said Rep. Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresOvernight Energy: GOP lawmaker parodies Green New Deal in new bill | House Republicans accuse Dems of ramming through climate bill | Park Service chief grilled over shutdown House Republicans accuse Dems of ramming through climate bill Seven Republicans vote against naming post office after ex-Rep. Louise Slaughter MORE (R-Texas).

Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, estimated after Wednesday’s vote series that the whip count for the short-term funding bill is “somewhere between 210 and 215,” which would make it a tight vote.

That means leadership may have to win over some Freedom Caucus members, who held their own closed-door meeting Tuesday night in which a number of lawmakers expressed concern over the funding patch and broader immigration negotiations on Capitol Hill.

The group did not take a formal position on the CR, which requires 80 percent consensus from the caucus.

But those who are “leaning no” or “undecided” on the short-term spending measure are putting pressure on leadership to bring the Goodlatte immigration bill to the House floor to secure their support for the CR.

“First of all, I’d like to get our House bill on immigration enforcement passed,” Rep. Scott PerryScott Gordon PerryConservatives ask Barr to lay out Trump's rationale for census question Pennsylvania state official launches Democratic challenge to GOP rep in district carried by Trump Lawmakers push to block pay raises for members of Congress MORE (R-Pa.), a Freedom Caucus member, told reporters on Wednesday. “We ought to put a mark on a that.”

“That’s a minimum standard. That’s No. 1,” he added.

The legislation, which has attracted support from both the conservative and moderate wings of the GOP conference and has buy-in from key committee chairmen, includes more conservative immigration priorities than what is expected from any bipartisan deal on DACA.

In addition to providing DACA recipients with a temporary, renewable legal status, the bill would authorize $30 billion to build a border wall, end family reunification migration and the diversity visa lottery program, mandate the use of “E-Verify” to ensure employers only hire legal workers, allow the Justice Department to withhold grants from so-called sanctuary cities and increase the criminal penalties for deported criminals who return to the U.S. illegally.

“We don’t wanna get rolled by the Senate on DACA and the budget,” said Freedom Caucus Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.).

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulPopulation shifts set up huge House battleground Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey Overnight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran MORE (R-Texas), another lead sponsor on the Goodlatte bill, said a commitment from leadership on his immigration bill could help win more support for the CR.

“That certainly would help, in terms of whipping votes on the CR,” McCaul said.

But leadership, while supportive of the Goodlatte approach, has so far resisted calls to put the bill on the floor. It’s unclear whether the legislation could pass the House, and even if it does, it’s likely dead on arrival in the Senate. There is also concern the vote could roil the sensitive, high-level negotiations on a bipartisan DACA deal.

“We’re working on the Goodlatte bill,” said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyWhite House, Congress inch toward debt, budget deal House votes to condemn Trump for 'racist comments' On The Money: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency | Tech giants on defensive at antitrust hearing | Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses MORE (R-Calif.), when pressed by The Hill on whether leadership has committed to a floor vote yet.

Some Freedom Caucus members are also pushing leadership to fund the Pentagon at higher levels for the rest of the 2018 fiscal year and pass a short-term CR for the rest of the government — a sentiment shared by some defense hawks, but a demand that went nowhere during the previous debate over a CR.

Both Reps. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), two members of the House Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday night they may vote against the CR because it harms military readiness and puts U.S. troops at risk.

If some Freedom Caucus members band together with enough defense hawks, they could tank GOP leadership’s strategy to avert a government shutdown, though it’s unclear whether there are enough of them willing to do so.

Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloDemocratic lawmaker pushes back on Castro's call to repeal law making illegal border crossings a crime The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa Ex-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz MORE (R-Fla.) has also threatened to vote against the CR without a DACA deal in place, while Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieThe 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran House sends Trump border aid bill after Pelosi caves to pressure from moderates GOP scores procedural win by securing more funding to enforce Iran sanctions MORE (R-Ky.) is a perennial “no” vote on short-term funding bills. 

Meadows reiterated that he wants more than simple assurances that House lawmakers will get a vote on an enforcement-heavy DACA package, similar to the Goodlatte bill.

It's uncertain whether leadership will cave to the Freedom Caucus demands. But many Republicans believe that most of the GOP conference will end up grudgingly supporting the CR because it’s better than the alternative, which would either be shutting down the government or handing over leverage to House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? Al Green: 'We have the opportunity to punish' Trump with impeachment vote MORE (D-Calif.).

And Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyFour heated moments from House hearing on conditions at border facilities Ex-ICE chief blasts House Democrat after tense hearing: 'He ran out of there like a little girl' Live coverage: House Oversight examines Trump family separation policy MORE (D-Va.), who represents a large swath of the federal workforce, told WJLA he would ultimately support the CR if he was the decisive vote to keep the government open.

“We’ll build support, and we’ll get there. We always get there,” Rep. Frank LucasFrank Dean LucasHillicon Valley: Doctors press tech to crack down on anti-vax content | Facebook, Instagram suffer widespread outages | Spotify hits Apple with antitrust complaint | FCC rejects calls to delay 5G auction Overnight Energy: Solar installations dropped in 2018 | UN report says rising Arctic temperatures 'locked in' | Fiat Chrysler to recall 850K vehicles House technology committee leaders ask to postpone 5G spectrum auction MORE (R-Okla.), a member of Republican whip team, told reporters Wednesday morning. “Sometimes, some of my friends want to make it more exciting than it has to be.”

Scott Wong and Mike Lillis contributed. Updated at 3:35 p.m.