Leaders warn Republicans against forcing immigration vote

Leaders warn Republicans against forcing immigration vote
© Greg Nash

Republican leaders warned rank-and-file members Wednesday not to move ahead with a discharge petition to force an immigration vote, saying the effort would effectively hand over power to the Democrats, according to lawmakers who attended the closed-door meeting.

“They said it’s a lot better to stick together as team than a few guys trying to do their own thing with a bill that simply switches the power over to the other party,” Rep. Doug LaMalfaDouglas (Doug) LaMalfaOvernight Energy: Panel gives chairman power to subpoena Interior | House passes bill to protect wilderness | House Republicans propose carbon capture bill | Ocasio-Cortez introduces bill to ban fracking House passes Protecting America's Wilderness Act Koch campaign touts bipartisan group behind ag labor immigration bill MORE (R-Calif.) told The Hill. “It turns the floor over to them.”

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Leaders also said that the “the governing majority should be able to accomplish its agenda without resorting to discharge,” said Rep. Steve WomackStephen (Steve) Allen WomackOvernight Defense: Lawmakers tear into Pentagon over .8B for border wall | Dems offer bill to reverse Trump on wall funding | Senators urge UN to restore Iran sanctions Lawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts Deficits to average record .3 trillion over next decade: CBO MORE (R-Ark.). “That’s fundamental to governing.”

After the meeting, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? The Pelosi administration It's not populism that's killing America's democracy MORE (R-Wis.) reiterated his opposition to the discharge petition.

"Obviously, we do not agree with discharge petitions. We think they are a mistake. They disunify our majority," Ryan told reporters during his weekly press conference. "There are members of our majority [who] fall into different camps, and they want a solution on [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], and they want a solution on the border and the security issues, so we want to accommodate all of that."

"We don't want to advance something that won't become law and just get vetoed even if it made it to the president's desk. We want to advance something that has a chance of going into law that the president supports. That's why we met with the president [yesterday]." 

Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonOvernight Defense: Pentagon curtails more exercises over coronavirus | House passes Iran war powers measure | Rocket attack hits Iraqi base with US troops House passes measure limiting Trump's ability to take military action against Iran House passes .3 billion measure to fight coronavirus MORE (R-Mich.) pushed back against the notion that the move would empower the minority, pointing out that Ryan would be able to bring up an immigration bill of his choosing under the petition.

“It takes away the argument that the majority loses control of the floor. The Speaker is allowed to bring up whatever bill he wants,” Upton said after the meeting. “You don’t really lose control of the floor, because you’re allowed to bring up whatever proposal you want, and you let the chips fall where they may.”

Ryan and his top lieutenants are facing intense pressure from members to bring immigration legislation to the floor.

Eighteen Republicans have signed on to a discharge petition to force a series of votes on several immigration bills. If a majority of House members sign the petition, it would force a vote on the floor. 

If all Democrats back the petition, the sponsors would only need 25 Republicans to do so, a number that appears to be within reach despite opposition from GOP leaders.

Republican leaders, who met with President TrumpDonald John TrumpMilitary personnel to handle coronavirus patients at facilities in NYC, New Orleans and Dallas Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort has total of 20 patients: report Fauci says that all states should have stay-at-home orders MORE on Tuesday to chart a path forward on immigration, assured members during Wednesday's conference meeting that they are working on coming up with a solution to bring an immigration bill to the floor.

They didn’t give a specific timeline, but every one of them looked me in the eye and said they planned to bring a bill to the floor,” said Rep. Joe BartonJoe Linus BartonEx-Tea Party lawmakers turn heads on K Street Longtime GOP aide to launch lobbying shop Katie Hill resignation reignites push for federal 'revenge porn' law MORE (R-Texas).

But Republicans who are pressing leaders for more details about what the compromise legislation would look like said they came up short on details.

"I have not seen what a final agreement would look like — or even close," said Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who is leading the discharge petition effort. "So we're having good discussions, but right now our focus is making sure we have 218 people to sign."

The lawmakers pushing the discharge petition want a vote to help recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that Trump is ending that allows undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to live, work and attend school without fear of deportation.

Scott Wong contributed

Updated at 12:43 p.m.