GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team

GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team
© Greg Nash

Momentum is building for an insurgent effort by centrist Republicans to force immigration votes on the House floor despite GOP leadership’s attempt to tamp down the rebellion. 

The unfolding legislative battle is a nightmare for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanIs Joe Biden finished? Krystal Ball previews fifth Democratic debate Former Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled MORE (R-Wis.) and his lieutenants, because it exposes a fervent intraparty split in the GOP and pits leadership against many of the politically vulnerable members that are key to saving the Republican majority this fall. 

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A pair of GOP lawmakers on Wednesday signed on to a discharge petition that would set up a series of votes on immigration bills on the House floor later this year. The move came just hours after party leaders pleaded with rank-and-file members to stand down.

Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoProgressive group unveils first slate of 2020 congressional endorsements Democratic lawmakers call on Judiciary Committee to advance 'revenge porn' law Katie Hill resignation reignites push for federal 'revenge porn' law MORE (R-N.Y.), a leader of the moderate Tuesday Group, and Rep. Dave TrottDavid Alan TrottPro-Trump Republican immigrant to challenge Dem lawmaker who flipped Michigan seat Meet the lawmakers putting politics aside to save our climate Michigan New Members 2019 MORE (R-Mich.), who is retiring from Congress, both signed their names to the petition, becoming the 19th and 20th Republicans to do so.

Now, just five more Republican signatures are needed to force the immigration votes if all 193 Democrats join the effort.

“We will have more Republicans signing on this week, and a lot more Democrats signing on. I am confident we all have the votes we need,” said Rep. Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamEx-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Former GOP Rep. Walters joins energy company TikTok faces lawmaker anger over China ties MORE (R-Calif.), who is leading the effort with Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloRepublicans can't exploit the left's climate extremism without a better idea Progressive Latino group launches first incumbent protection campaign The Memo: Bad polls for Trump shake GOP MORE (R-Fla.) and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHill, Holmes offer damaging impeachment testimony: Five takeaways GOP lawmaker says Trump's statements on Ukraine call 'misguided foreign policy' The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Witness dismisses 'fictional' GOP claims of Ukraine meddling MORE (R-Texas). All three lawmakers are facing challenging elections this fall.

Denham added, “I’m not saying when our timeline is. I’m saying we have enough commitments to make sure we’re going to be successful.”

The coming days will see a battle for those remaining five votes. Denham and Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonShimkus says he's reconsidering retirement Shimkus says he's been asked to reconsider retirement Trump urges GOP to fight for him MORE (R-Mich.), who are leading the discharge whip operation, will be targeting those who have spoken favorably of the “Dreamer” issue but have yet to sign.

But those same Republicans are being whipped by GOP leadership not to sign. Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOn The Money: Trump signs short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown | Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 | California high court strikes down law targeting Trump tax returns McCarthy blasts Pelosi on USMCA The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Witness dismisses 'fictional' GOP claims of Ukraine meddling MORE (R-Calif.) reiterated during a closed-door meeting with Republicans on Wednesday that such a petition effectively cedes control of the floor to Democrats.

McCarthy’s warning to GOP colleagues was even more dire: If a discharge petition goes forward, he said, it could cost Republicans the House majority in the November midterm elections.

“I disagree with his assessment, but there were a number of members of leadership that were expressing those concerns,” said Denham, who represents an agriculture-heavy district in the Central Valley. 

Among the targeted lawmakers are retiring Reps. Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondoFormer GOP Rep. Costello launches lobbying shop Republicans plot comeback in New Jersey K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers MORE (R-N.J.) and Joe BartonJoe Linus BartonLongtime GOP aide to launch lobbying shop Katie Hill resignation reignites push for federal 'revenge porn' law Shimkus says he's been asked to reconsider retirement MORE (R-Texas), along with moderate Reps. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerLawmakers spar over surveillance flight treaty with Russia Honoring service before self House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump MORE (R-Ill.), Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartHouse GOP wants Senate Republicans to do more on impeachment How House Republicans have stayed unified on impeachment The Hill's Morning Report - Wild Wednesday: Sondland testimony, Dem debate take center stage MORE (R-Utah), Bruce PoliquinBruce Lee PoliquinThe Hill's Morning Report - Mass shootings put spotlight on Trump, Congress Ex-GOP lawmaker from Maine says he won't run for his old seat in 2020 Making the case for ranked-choice voting MORE (R-Maine), Dan NewhouseDaniel (Dan) Milton NewhouseBipartisan group reveals agricultural worker immigration bill From state agriculture departments to Congress: Our farmers need the USMCA House passes bill to protect 'Dreamers' MORE (R-Wash.), David YoungDavid Edmund YoungFormer 'Apprentice' contestant ranks Trump next to Mother Teresa on women's issues Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress MORE (R-Iowa) and Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedHillicon Valley: Critics press feds to block Google, Fitbit deal | Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-linked accounts | TikTok looks to join online anti-terrorism effort | Apple pledges .5B to affordable housing Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-affiliated accounts after lawmaker pressure Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg would support delaying Libra | More attorneys general join Facebook probe | Defense chief recuses from 'war cloud' contract | Senate GOP blocks two election security bills | FTC brings case against 'stalking' app developer MORE (R-N.Y.), co-chairman of the Problem Solvers Caucus. 

Other possible signers, such as Reps. David JoyceDavid Patrick JoyceKeeping your national parks accessible even during a government shutdown Marijuana industry donations to lawmakers surge in 2019: analysis The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump issues Taliban warning at Sept. 11 memorial MORE (R-Ohio) and Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastA new way to address veteran and military suicides VA might not be able to end veteran homelessness, but we shouldn't stop trying GOP lawmaker mistakenly wishes Navy happy birthday with photo of Russian ship MORE (R-Fla.), say they stand in solidarity with pro-immigration backers; they just don’t like the legislative procedures that are being used.

“That is not a tactic I think we should employ,” Joyce, a member of the Tuesday Group, told The Hill.

Vulnerable Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockLive coverage: House holds third day of public impeachment hearings Gun debate raises stakes in battle for Virginia legislature Progressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats MORE (R-Va.), a close leadership ally, said she’s against discharge petitions in general but added that she expects Congress to move on immigration soon.

“I think we’ve got to get everybody in a room and keep working on this like we’ve been trying to,” she said.

The backers of the discharge petition are desperate to vote on legislation to help recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program before the midterms. Trump is ending the Obama-era program that allows immigrants came to the United States illegally as children to live, work and attend school without fear of deportation.

But the courts have blocked Trump from rescinding DACA, taking away the original March 5 deadline — and the sense of urgency — for Congress to come up with a permanent solution.

GOP leaders assured members during Wednesday’s conference meeting that they are still working to bring an immigration bill to the floor. Under new pressure, Ryan and McCarthy met with Trump at the White House on Tuesday to try to come up with legislation that would have the backing of Republicans, Democrats and the president.

“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,” Ryan told reporters Wednesday. “We want to advance something that has a chance of going into law that the president supports.”

After the petition hit its 20th signature, the top four members of leadership — along with Deputy Whip Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryOn The Money: House passes monthlong stopgap | Broader spending talks stall | Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns | Progressives ramp up attacks on private equity Progressive Democrats ramp up attacks on private equity House passes Ex-Im Bank reboot bill opposed by White House, McConnell MORE (R-N.C.) — huddled with both the discharge backers and opponents in separate meetings on Wednesday night. 

Curbelo, Upton and Denham said leaders kicked around some ideas for an immigration bill. Curbelo emphasized that they aren’t on the edge of a deal yet, but described the meeting as “productive” and “moving in the right direction.” 

“Clearly we have had a positive impact on leadership and on this institution, because now this issue is being taken seriously,” Curbelo told reporters outside of Ryan’s office. “We have our plan, we’re sticking to it, but we’re willing to see what theirs looks like.”

But if leadership does not bring immigration legislation to the floor in the coming weeks, more Republicans have warned they may sign the petition.

“I do reserve the right to, if leadership doesn’t keep their word and bring some bills to the floor pretty quickly,” said Barton, who is a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act. 

If the effort does secure 218 signatures, there is little Ryan and his top lieutenants can do to stop the effort. But there are a few options that discharge opponents are pressing them to use.

A House rule says discharge petitions can only be considered on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. So one idea is to have Ryan cancel those days that the House is in session — a move that would enrage discharge backers.

The other controversial idea, pushed by members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, is to have Ryan bring up a standalone vote on a more conservative immigration bill sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview MORE (R-Va.) and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulTexas GOP congressman calls on governor to postpone execution of Rodney Reed House Republicans add Hunter Biden, whistleblower to impeachment hearing witness wish list Trump: Whistleblower 'must come forward' MORE (R-Texas). Lawmakers say that would effectively kill the discharge petition because it calls for votes on various immigration bills — including Goodlatte-McCaul.

Supporters of the petition could just file a new petition, but it would force them to restart the clock. They also would lose at least one signature, because former Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentOvernight Health Care — Presented by Better Medicare Alliance — Federal judge blocks Trump from detaining migrant children indefinitely | Health officials tie vaping-related illnesses to 'Dank Vapes' brand | Trump to deliver health care speech in Florida The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller testimony gives Trump a boost as Dems ponder next steps The Hill's 12:30 Report: Muller testimony dominates Washington MORE (R-Pa.) has left Congress since signing the petition.

“We are nervous that we think this immigration thing is coming quickly,” said Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanDiplomat seen rolling his eyes amid testy impeachment exchange with Jordan Live coverage: Impeachment spotlight shifts to Fiona Hill, David Holmes House GOP wants Senate Republicans to do more on impeachment MORE (R-Ohio), a Freedom Caucus leader. “So we’re trying to figure out ways we can do right on immigration.”

Some Freedom Caucus members said they would be willing to back a pending GOP farm bill if Ryan agrees to put the standalone bill from Goodlatte and McCaul on the floor to derail the discharge petition. 

While leadership wants to pass the farm bill, a vote on the Goodlatte-McCaul legislation — which does not have the votes to pass now — could be politically embarrassing and force members to take a position on a bill that has little chance to become law this year.

It’s unclear whether leadership is seriously considering the idea; Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsHouse GOP wants Senate Republicans to do more on impeachment Michelle Obama presents Lin-Manuel Miranda with National Portrait Award Sondland testimony looms over impeachment hearings this week MORE (R-N.C.) and several other members met with leaders on Wednesday night.

And Denham pointed out that the idea would only work if enough GOP lawmakers agreed to support the rule allowing the Goodlatte-McCaul  bill to come to the floor. Democrats routinely vote against such procedural motions.

“If they’re going to bring up a bill, that bill also has to come up on a rule first,” Denham said, “and I don’t think the rule would have enough votes.”