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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 RyanBoehner book jacket teases slams against Cruz, Trump CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be Cruz hires Trump campaign press aide as communications director 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 KatkoBiden officials urge patience on immigration amid border surge Lawmakers line up behind potential cyber breach notification legislation Lawmakers blame SolarWinds hack on 'collective failure' to prioritize cybersecurity MORE (R-N.Y.), a leader of the moderate Tuesday Group, and Rep. Dave TrottDavid Alan TrottFormer GOP Michigan congressman says Trump is unfit for office Pro-Trump Republican immigrant to challenge Dem lawmaker who flipped Michigan seat Meet the lawmakers putting politics aside to save our climate 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 DenhamBottom line Business groups breathe sigh of relief over prospect of divided government Ex-RNC, Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy charged in covert lobbying scheme MORE (R-Calif.), who is leading the effort with Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloFormer GOP lawmaker: Republican Party 'engulfed in lies and fear' House GOP lawmaker unexpectedly shakes up Senate trial The Memo: Historic vote leaves Trump more isolated than ever MORE (R-Fla.) and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHere are the three GOP lawmakers who voted for the Equality Act Sunday shows - COVID-19 dominates as grim milestone approaches Former Texas GOP rep: Trump should hold very little or no role in Republican Party 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 UptonHouse Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 Upton censured for vote to remove Marjorie Taylor Greene from Education Committee Is the 'civil war' in the Republican Party really over? 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 McCarthySome Republicans say proxy voting gives advantage to Democrats Wray says no evidence of 'antifa' involvement in Jan. 6 attack Republican rips GOP lawmakers for voting by proxy from CPAC 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 LoBiondoVan Drew-Kennedy race in NJ goes down to the wire Van Drew wins GOP primary in New Jersey Amy Kennedy wins NJ primary to face GOP's Van Drew MORE (R-N.J.) and Joe BartonJoe Linus BartonRep. Ron Wright dies after contracting COVID-19 Biden's gain is Democratic baseball's loss with Cedric Richmond Bottom line MORE (R-Texas), along with moderate Reps. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerHaley praises Trump CPAC speech after breaking with him over Capitol riot Kinzinger: Trump just wants to 'stand in front of a crowd and be adored' Juan Williams: Hypocrisy runs riot in GOP MORE (R-Ill.), Chris StewartChris StewartGeorgia AG rejects prosecutor's request for Rayshard Brooks case to be reassigned House Republicans ask for briefing on threats keeping National Guard in DC READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE (R-Utah), Bruce PoliquinBruce Lee PoliquinTrump battle with Fox News revived by Arizona projection Rep. Jared Golden wins reelection in Maine Senate control in flux as counting goes forward in key states MORE (R-Maine), Dan NewhouseDaniel (Dan) Milton NewhouseSix ways to visualize a divided America Here are the GOP lawmakers censured by Republicans for impeaching Trump Upton becomes first member of Congress to vote to impeach two presidents MORE (R-Wash.), David YoungDavid Edmund YoungFirst-term Democrat presses for coronavirus relief agreement this year Axne wins reelection in Iowa Democrats lead in 3 of 4 Iowa House races: poll MORE (R-Iowa) and Tom ReedTom ReedTaylor Swift celebrates House passage of Equality Act Here are the three GOP lawmakers who voted for the Equality Act House passes sweeping protections for LGBTQ people MORE (R-N.Y.), co-chairman of the Problem Solvers Caucus. 

Other possible signers, such as Reps. David JoyceDavid JoyceThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Which path will Democrats take on COVID-19 bill? Jim Jordan says he won't run for Senate in 2022 Ohio lieutenant governor won't run for Portman's Senate seat MORE (R-Ohio) and Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastTapper battles GOP lawmakers over criticism of Afghan vet's Electoral College vote Republican war veteran gives Guard troops a tour of the Capitol LIVE COVERAGE: House votes to impeach Trump after Capitol insurrection 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 ComstockFormer GOP lawmaker says party should denounce Marjorie Taylor Greene Former GOP congresswoman calls on Republicans to back impeachment 22 retired GOP members of Congress call for Trump's impeachment 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 panel spars over GameStop, Robinhood | Manchin meets with advocates for wage | Yellen says go big, GOP says hold off House panel spars over GameStop frenzy, trading apps Robinhood CEO, regulators to testify at House hearing on GameStop frenzy 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 GoodlatteBottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden Press: Trump's final presidential pardon: himself MORE (R-Va.) and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulBlinken speaks with Ethiopian leader about human rights concerns in Tigray Biden to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning, jailing Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission 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 Dent22 retired GOP members of Congress call for Trump's impeachment Seven Senate races to watch in 2022 The magnificent moderation of Susan Collins 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 JordanJim Jordan calls for House Judiciary hearing on 'cancel culture' CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' 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 MeadowsHow scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses Kinzinger calls for people with info on Trump to come forward 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.”