Tensions on immigration erupt in the House GOP

House Republican leaders are scrambling to stop an effort by rank-and-file members to force votes on immigration, with lawmakers openly defying their calls to stand down. 

Centrist Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloEx-GOP lawmaker joins marijuana trade group Dems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE (Fla.), Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamCrazy California an outlier? No, we are the canary in the coal mine Polling editor says news outlets should be more cautious calling elections Rep. Valadao officially concedes in California race MORE (Calif.) and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdProperty is a fundamental right that is now being threatened The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority MORE (Texas), all Republicans facing tough reelection races, introduced a discharge petition on Wednesday morning to trigger a series of immigration votes. Discharge petitions are traditionally seen as a serious affront to leadership, making members reluctant to sign on.

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Yet the effort quickly caught fire, gaining new supporters throughout the day. By press time, at least 17 GOP lawmakers had endorsed the petition, just eight short of the 25 Republican votes that would be needed if every Democrat also backed it.

Facing the prospect of a potentially divisive floor debate ahead of the midterm elections, GOP leaders on Wednesday afternoon made a public plea for members to abandon the petition, calling it the wrong approach.

“I don’t believe in discharge petitions. You’re turning the floor over. I think it’s better to use the legislative process,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse leaders need to modernize Congress for the sake of America Overnight Energy: McConnell tees up vote on Green New Deal | Centrist Dems pitch alternative to plan | House Republican likens Green New Deal to genocide | Coca-Cola reveals it uses 3M tons of plastic every year House GOP lawmaker says Green New Deal is like genocide MORE (R-Calif.), who controls what bills come to the House floor, told reporters. 

House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseWhy do so many Democrats embrace hate speech? Conservatives wage assault on Mueller report Meadows says Mueller's end proves 'no collusion' MORE (R-La.) said he isn’t actively whipping against the discharge petition, but said he has told lawmakers it’s “not the way to legislate.”

“I’ve talked to some members about the importance of keeping control of the legislative vehicle and solving the problem on our terms where we focus on solutions, not politics,” he said.

In phone calls and one-on-one conversations, members of GOP leadership have been asking centrist Republicans whether they plan to support the petition.

“They are making calls,” one GOP lawmaker backing the petition said.

Some of these conversations have been more aggressive than others.

“I know [GOP leaders] … tried to talk them out of it,” Rep. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanDenver Post editorial board says Gardner endorsement was 'mistake' Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Gardner gets latest Democratic challenge from former state senator MORE (R-Colo.), who has signed on to the petition and is facing a tough reelection race, told The Hill. “The people that told me said that it didn’t change their mind.” 

Scalise and the leadership team says it would be better for members to back an immigration bill authored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteTop Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling MORE (R-Va.) and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems aim to end anti-Semitism controversy with vote today Sixteen years later, let's finally heed the call of the 9/11 Commission  GOP lawmakers urge State Dept. to label cartels as terrorist organizations MORE (R-Texas). The bill would grant temporary protections to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program while enacting tough illegal immigration enforcement measures and restricting legal immigration.

That legislation, however, has attracted only 95 GOP co-sponsors and no Democrats.  

“In general, discharge petitions are bad legislative tactics because it undermines the majority,” Scalise, who runs the GOP’s vote-counting operation, told The Hill. 

“It would be an approach that would rely on mostly Democratic votes and some Republicans to pass their bill,” Scalise said, “and that’s not the way to solve this problem.”

Since 2002, only two discharge petitions have succeeded.

The most recent was in 2015, when former Rep. Stephen FincherStephen Lee FincherLamar Alexander's exit marks end of an era in evolving Tennessee Tensions on immigration erupt in the House GOP Trump backs Blackburn's Tennessee Senate bid MORE (R-Tenn.) collected enough signatures to force a floor vote renewing the Export-Import Bank. 

The political conditions at the time were unusual. Former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner says it's Democrats' turn for a Tea Party movement House Republicans find silver lining in minority Alaskan becomes longest serving Republican in House history MORE (R-Ohio) had announced his retirement, and Fincher’s move to buck leadership so aggressively was widely considered to have the outgoing Speaker’s tacit support. BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner says it's Democrats' turn for a Tea Party movement House Republicans find silver lining in minority Alaskan becomes longest serving Republican in House history MORE backed the Ex-Im Bank even as other leaders, including McCarthy, opposed it. 

The final vote on the House floor was an overwhelming 313-118.

DACA supporters are hoping that Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFormer Dem candidate says he faced cultural barriers on the campaign trail because he is working-class Former House candidate and ex-ironworker says there is 'buyer's remorse' for Trump in Midwest Head of top hedge fund association to step down MORE (R-Wis.), who recently announced that he’s not running for reelection, will provide similar cover to Republicans endorsing the Curbelo petition. That could lead to a standoff against McCarthy, a close ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Countdown clock is on for Mueller conclusions Omar: White supremacist attacks are rising because Trump publicly says 'Islam hates us' MORE, who hopes to replace Ryan atop the party next year.

The arcane rules of the House on discharge petitions have often negated their effectiveness and discouraged members from introducing them. 

Petitions can be filed only after a bill has remained idle in committee for 30 legislative days. Members wishing to sign the document do so on the chamber floor.

If a petition does reach 218 sponsors, the bill still can’t be considered before the passage of seven more legislative days — and it can’t be considered on just any day. Bills discharged in this manner may be considered only on the second or fourth Monday of the month.

Despite the complications, Curbelo said a discharge petition was necessary.

“We wanted to work with our leadership and we knew that they were working this Goodlatte bill. We wanted to give them time to do it even if I was always really skeptical about it. Too much time has passed,” he said.

Along with Curbelo, Denham and Hurd, Reps. Mario Diaz-BalartMario Rafael Diaz-BalartFlorida lawmakers pitch bipartisan Venezuela amendment for Dream Act House Dems reintroduce the Dream Act Trump to allow lawsuits to proceed against Cuban property seizures MORE (R-Fla.) and David ValadaoDavid Goncalves ValadaoThe 8 House Republicans who voted against Trump’s border wall The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — The political currents that will drive the shutdown showdown Rep. Valadao officially concedes in California race MORE (R-Calif.) signed on as initial co-sponsors for the discharge petition. All are facing competitive races this year, with Curbelo and Denham’s races seen as toss-ups by the Cook Political Report.

Rep. Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenThe women in white and the trails they blaze Lobbying World Former GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop MORE (R-Fla.) — who is retiring at the end of the year — and Reps. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Juan Williams: Racial shifts spark fury in Trump and his base Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE (R-Utah) and John FasoJohn James FasoThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority GOP House super PAC targets two freshman Dems with new ads Tax law failed to save GOP majority MORE (R-N.Y.) also spoke in favor of the petition.

The lawmakers promoting the petition said they have been careful to keep leadership in the loop so as not to create a division within the GOP conference.

Denham informed Ryan on Tuesday that he planned to move forward with the discharge petition because he doesn’t “want any surprises,” he said.

But Ryan told him the discharge petition could end up allowing passage of legislation that’s ultimately vetoed by Trump, an argument that irks its supporters.

“It’s impossible to say the president will veto all these bills when the bills haven’t been finalized,” Curbelo said.

“This process will give the authors the opportunity to amend their laws, to modify them before presenting them, and it gives the Speaker of the House the opportunity to go to the White House, negotiate a bill and to present that bill. So that argument makes no sense,” he added.

The discharge petition would specifically force a vote on a “Queen of the Hill” rule that would lead to votes on a series of competing immigration proposals, one of which would be of Ryan’s choosing. Whichever measure won the most votes would be the legislation approved by the House.

The four proposals are all intended to be legislative replacements for DACA, which Trump rescinded in September.

Under DACA, about 690,000 “Dreamers” — immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as minors — were protected from deportation and allowed to work and go to school in the United States.

The Queen of the Hill rule that the GOP lawmakers have been pursuing would have the House choose between the hard-line proposal from Goodlatte; the DREAM Act, a proposal that would give a path to citizenship to 1.8 million Dreamers; the USA Act, a measure that would pair the Dream Act with $25 billion in border security funding; and Ryan’s proposal.

When it was introduced, the proposal quickly attracted a majority of the House, garnering 248 co-sponsors, including 52 Republicans.

Yet some of the Republican supporters of the Queen of the Hill rule have yet to back the discharge petition. 

“I believe in Denham’s bill. I’m a co-sponsor to the bill but I don’t believe in discharge petitions,” said Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) Thomas KingRepublicans defend McCain amid Trump attacks The 23 Republicans who voted against the anti-hate resolution House passes second major gun bill MORE (R-N.Y.). 

“Not at this stage, anyway,” he added.

Rep. Glenn ThompsonGlenn (G.T.) W. ThompsonDreamers-for-wall trade going nowhere in House Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg denies selling 'anyone's data' | UK Parliament releases more Facebook docs | Canada reportedly arrests Huawei CFO | Fallout from Marriott hack | Cuba rolls out internet service for mobile users Bipartisan bill would create grant program promoting cybersecurity education MORE (R-Pa.) not only rejected the discharge petition, but said he now wants to remove his name as a co-sponsor of the original Queen of the Hill resolution.

“My philosophy is, I don’t want just any immigration solution,” he said. “It has to be something that addresses agriculture’s needs, as well as some other righteous, important needs.”

Still, even Republicans who don’t support the effort to force a vote have grown tired of waiting.

“I think we’re past deadlines. Before we break for summer we really have to solve this issue, with DACA in particular,” said Rep. Tom MacArthurThomas (Tom) Charles MacArthurThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority 10 things we learned from the midterms New Jersey New Members 2019 MORE (R), who is facing a competitive race in New Jersey.

Mike Lillis, Melanie Zanona and Juliegrace Brufke contributed.