© Greg Nash
The second-ranking House Democrat has an urgent request of Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFormer Sen. Bob Dole dies at 98 No time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power MORE (R-Wis.) heading into the thorny debate on the fate of "Dreamers": Ignore President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package Trump calls Milley a 'f---ing idiot' over Afghanistan withdrawal First rally for far-right French candidate Zemmour prompts protests, violence MORE and let the House pass the bill it favors.
Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerSenate leaders face pushback on tying debt fight to defense bill Overnight Defense & National Security — US tries to deter Russian invasion of Ukraine Senate eyes plan B amid defense bill standoff MORE (Md.), the Democratic whip, said Ryan’s vow to consider only immigration bills that enjoy Trump’s support blurs the lines between the separate branches of government and smacks of “adherence to a president who really has no experience.”
“Ryan’s saying he’s going to put something on the floor that Trump will sign is a little bit like putting a Russian sanctions bill on the floor that Putin will sign,” Hoyer said during a press briefing in the Capitol, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The fact of the matter is that we’re an independent, co-equal branch of government.”
The push arrives as Congress scrambles to shore up the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era directive providing temporary legal protection to hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, immigrants who came to the United States illegally as kids. Trump rescinded DACA in September, urging Congress to salvage the program through legislation. He set a deadline of March 5.
The Senate this week began debate on DACA, launching a freewheeling process designed to cobble together a fix that can win 60 votes in the upper chamber, where Republicans are sharply divided on the issue. But Ryan has not promised a similar debate in the House, instead adopting a wait-and-see approach that leans heavily on the wishes of the Senate and the president.
Asked how Democrats expect Ryan to approach immigration, Hoyer said it remains a mystery.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Immigration issues have long divided the Republican Party, and in taking the Speaker’s gavel in 2015, Ryan had promised members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus that he would dismiss any immigration bill that lacked the support of more than half the Republican majority — an informal guideline known on Capitol Hill as the “Hastert rule,” after former GOP Speaker Dennis HastertJohn (Dennis) Dennis HastertFeehery: Why Democrats are now historically unpopular Feehery: The honest contrarian Feehery: The next Republican wave is coming MORE (Ill.).
More recently, Ryan has shifted his language, saying he’ll vote only on immigration legislation that has Trump’s backing — a message he amplified on Tuesday.
“If we stick with the kind of outline that the president talked about, then I think we can get a good deal,” Ryan told Fox Business.
Hoyer rejected both strategies, highlighting the ignominious history surrounding Hastert, who in 2015 pleaded guilty to money laundering related to hush money he’d paid to former male students he’d allegedly sexually abused decades ago when he was a teacher and coach.
“Is Mr. Hastert out of jail yet? Does anybody know?” Hoyer asked. “They keep following this ‘Hastert rule.’ ”
Hastert, 76, was released from a federal prison hospital last July.
Hoyer, noting that Ryan had promised to bring a new era of transparency to the House, challenged the Speaker “to avoid being extraordinarily hypocritical.”
“He said we would take on the tough issues, and we would take them one at a time, and the House will work its will,” Hoyer said.
“He didn’t say the Hastert Rule would prevail; he said the House.”
The debate has been clouded to a degree by the ever-changing messages coming from Trump on DACA. In September, the president had agreed to the contours of an immigration deal that coupled DACA protections with border security, only to shift gears the next month by issuing a memo — authored by senior adviser Stephen Miller, an immigration hard-liner — listing a host of additional enforcement provisions the White House said it would demand as part of a Dreamers package, including a border wall and a reduction in legal immigration.
“When you ask what the president’s policies are, you have to ask, ‘Which hour is he speaking?’ ” Hoyer said.
Last month, Trump huddled at the White House with a group of lawmakers from both parties, where he seemed to soften his demands by endorsing the notion of passing a “clean” DREAM Act — one without any enforcement provisions — and moving to the security measures at a later date.
"Yeah, I would like — I would like to do that," Trump said in response to a request from Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinWhat's that you smell in the Supreme Court? New variant raises questions about air travel mandates Progressive groups urge Feinstein to back filibuster carve out for voting rights or resign MORE (D-Calif.), a remark initially omitted from the official White House transcript of the meeting.
Democrats are pointing to those remarks as the DACA debate heats up this month.
“The president said flat out, ‘We’re going to take care of the DACA kids, you do some legislation that takes care of that and I will sign it,’ ” said Hoyer, who was seated next to Trump during that January meeting. “Why we have not been able to accomplish that in the last four months, five months, is beyond me.”
More recently, however, the White House has outlined a four-tiered approach to the immigration question, demanding that any DACA bill must be combined with heightened border security, a reduction in family-based immigration and the elimination of the diversity visa lottery.
Ryan on Tuesday endorsed that design, characterizing it as a “serious” and “well-balanced” offer.
“Something that encapsulates those four pillars that he talks about, I think that's something that can get passed,” Ryan told Fox.
Hoyer has a different take, accusing Ryan of cowering to Trump — and Trump of pandering to conservative immigration hawks.
“At the White House he said, ‘I’ll take the heat.’ … He’s not taking much heat yet,” Hoyer said. “He’s pandering to … his right wing. And he ought to stand up for what he said he would do.”
Hoyer has for weeks been involved in a series of closed-door DACA meetings with Trump’s chief of staff, John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, and the deputy leaders of each chamber — Sens. John CornynJohn CornynSenate leaders face pushback on tying debt fight to defense bill House passes bill to expedite financial disclosures from judges McConnell leaves GOP in dark on debt ceiling MORE (R-Texas) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinFour questions that deserve answers at the Guantanamo oversight hearing Senate dodges initial December crisis with last-minute deal Conservatives target Biden pick for New York district court MORE (D-Ill.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyPressure grows to remove Boebert from committees Senate leaders face pushback on tying debt fight to defense bill News reporting in an age of rampant mendacity MORE (R-Calif.). With the Senate immigration debate launching this week, Hoyer said those talks are all but over.
“The No. 2s are probably going to have to see what happens in the Senate,” Hoyer said.