Emboldened conservatives press Ryan to bring hard-right immigration bill to floor
Emboldened by what they believe was a victory in the three-day government shutdown, House conservatives are raising the pressure on Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to bring a tough border enforcement bill to the floor.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) has been urging President Trump and the White House to more forcefully advocate for the legislation, crafted by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), which is much more conservative than a bipartisan Senate plan to shield recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program from deportation.
Leaders of another conservative group, the Republican Study Committee (RSC), called Tuesday for Ryan’s leadership team to bring the bill to the floor, scoffing at bipartisan “backroom” negotiations happening in the Senate and among Hill leaders.
“[Senate Minority Leader Charles] Schumer [D-N.Y.] is once again overplaying his hand on immigration, trying to paint his ‘solution’ as a foregone conclusion. The reality on the ground is that his extremist proposals are a non-starter in the House,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), the RSC’s chairman, told The Hill.
“We have a workable path forward with the Goodlatte/McCaul bill and that’s the bar set in the House,” Walker said.
To win conservative support for a monthlong government funding bill last week, Ryan promised Meadows and the Freedom Caucus that he would put a team together to more aggressively whip GOP support for the legislation, according to a source familiar with the discussion.
So far, the bill only has about 80 GOP co-sponsors, lawmakers said.
“The Speaker has committed to working to find a path ahead for it in the House,” Ryan spokesman Doug Andres said in an email.
Trump has expressed support for the measure but has not formally endorsed the plan. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Tuesday that the Goodlatte bill “is something that we would support.”
The bill — dubbed the Securing America’s Future Act — would be dead on arrival in the Senate. But conservatives say it would lay down a marker and a strong negotiating position for House Republicans as the two parties try to strike a deal to protect from deportation 700,000 recipients of the Obama-era DACA program, which protected certain immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, before the March 5 deadline imposed by Trump.
The legislation would provide DACA recipients with a temporary, three-year legal status that could be renewed indefinitely, but not a path to citizenship, as outlined in a plan pitched by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
The House measure would authorize $30 billion to build a border wall and invest in other border security measures, end family-based immigration and eliminate the diversity visa lottery program — all of which were pillars outlined at a White House meeting earlier this month.
But the Goodlatte bill would go several steps further to the right by mandating E-Verify, a system that crosschecks every new employment contract with a federal immigration status database; allowing the Justice Department to withhold grants from so-called sanctuary cities and increasing the criminal penalties for deported criminals who return to the U.S. illegally.
Under the proposal, immigration levels would be reduced by 25 percent overall, according to bill sponsors.
But even though the plan reflects a basket of conservative priorities and has buy-in from key committee chairmen, not every component of the bill has the backing of the GOP.
Members representing the agricultural sector have taken issue with a contentious provision requiring employers taking advantage of an agricultural guest worker program to use E-Verify.
Meadows acknowledged that the bill will probably have to be modified to attract enough conservative support, pointing to the E-Verify language specifically.
“It probably needs some tweaks to deal with some of the concerns our moderate members have, but I think there’s a happy place,” said former RSC Chairman Bill Flores (Texas), who backs the bill. “I think it probably will be bipartisan, probably from border-state Democrats.”
But other Republicans expressed far more skepticism that leadership could cobble together enough GOP votes to pass border security and DACA legislation that is opposed by Democrats.
“My leadership is going to have to accept the reality that there may not be a majority of the majority to support a bipartisan DACA-border security deal,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) told reporters.
“This idea of doing a Republican-only DACA bill is a fantasy. It’s a complete exercise in futility, because it has zero chance of passing the Senate — and near-zero chance of passing the House.”
There are other complications to bringing the bill to the floor. It would be a tough vote for moderate Republicans heading into the 2018 midterm elections, especially for those representing large Hispanic constituencies.
“I could never support the [bill]. It includes provisions that are completely repulsive in nature,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a Cuban-American lawmaker from Miami. “I will work tirelessly to defeat it in its current form.”
There is also concern that passing a hard-line immigration package could poison the well on the bipartisan negotiations led by Ryan’s top lieutenant, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), Durbin, and White House chief of staff John Kelly are also involved in those talks.
But if a bipartisan, bicameral solution on a DACA-border security bill is not reached by the next government funding deadline on Feb. 8, both chambers may push ahead with their own approaches.
“The Senate should send what they can, even if it’s clean DACA bill. I think we need to have one of our bills up, and I would guess the Goodlatte one is the leading contender right now,” said GOP Rep. Tim Walberg, whose southern Michigan district is home to many seasonal agriculture and tourism immigrant workers. “We’ll go to conference committee and iron it out.”
“I think we all want DACA fixed. We all want to fix immigration, and this is the time to do it,” he added. “We need documented workers.”
Meadows swatted down concerns that the Senate would have the upper hand in the negotiations since an immigration bill will require 60 votes and some Democratic buy-in to pass the upper chamber.
“They take more naps than they do votes,” Meadows said of the Senate. “We actually have a bill with legislative text. To my knowledge, the Senate doesn’t have a bill with legislative text; what they have are a few ideas that have been batted around among Senate colleagues.”