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Dems give members green light to sign immigration petition

Dems give members green light to sign immigration petition
© Greg Nash

House Democratic leaders are telling their members the time has come to sign on to a Republican discharge petition aimed at forcing votes in the House on immigration. 

Democratic leaders had encouraged their-rank-and-file to hold off on signing the petition to see if it garnered the 25 GOP signatures that would be needed to reach a majority. 

But now, with 20 Republicans having endorsed the measure, Democratic leaders are changing their tune.

"Members are strongly urged to sign the Curbelo Queen-of-the-Hill discharge petition on the House Floor, which is available for signatures immediately," reads a whip notice sent out to the Democratic Caucus by its leaders Thursday.

"Due to the timing of when a motion to discharge could be made on the Floor, and the current voting schedule, today is a critical day to try to achieve 218 signatures," the notice states.

Before the notice, a handful of Democrats had already signed the petition. 

At House votes Thursday evening, Democrats were quick to heed the advice of leaders, queuing up on the floor to sign the petition. The line snaked from the dais to the back of the chamber.
 
Not every Democrat is on board. Rep. Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia For everyone’s safety, border agents must use body-worn cameras Progressives’ wins highlight divide in Democratic Party MORE, who represents a border district in Texas, is concerned the Queen of the Hill process will lead to new border wall construction, which he adamantly opposes.
 
"I ain't signing it," Vela said heading into the votes. "I'm not going to facilitate a vote that will provide border wall funding."

Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloDems see blue 'tsunami' in House as Senate path narrows GOP spokeswoman says Republicans will lose House seats in midterms Cook Political Report shifts 7 more races towards Dems MORE (R-Fla.) last week introduced the discharge petition, a rarely used procedural tactic that can be used to go around leadership and force votes on legislation.

Republican leaders have urged their members not to back the petition, warning the move will cede control of the floor to Democrats. 

If Curbelo's discharge petition reaches 218 signatures, it would force a floor vote on a proposal introduced by Rep. Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamDems target small cluster of states in battle for House Poll: Dems lead in 5 critical California House seats Dems announce third-quarter fundraising bonanza MORE (R-Calif.) that's known as a Queen of the Hill rule.

Under Queen of the Hill, different proposals on a same issue are voted on, and the bill that gets the most votes past a 50 percent threshold is approved and sent to the Senate.

Denham's proposal would include four bills designed to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which,  before President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE cancelled it in September, provided protection form deportation for certain immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

The proposals in Denham's Queen of the Hill rule are a conservative bill proposed by Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFusion GPS co-founder pleads the Fifth following House GOP subpoena House Judiciary chairman threatens to subpoena Rosenstein Fusion GPS co-founder will invoke 'constitutional rights not to testify': lawyers MORE (R-Va.) that would grant temporary status to so-called Dreamers while imposing a series of restrictive measures on legal and illegal immigration; the Dream Act, which would grant a path to citizenship to at least 1.8 million Dreamers; the USA Act, a bipartisan compromise that would pair Dream Act-like measures with $25 billion in border security; and an open slot for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel Ryan signals support for sanctions if Saudis killed Khashoggi MORE (R-Wis.) to propose an immigration bill of his choosing. 

Denham specifically wrote his rule to avoid confrontation with leadership, giving space to the measure top GOP brass had been whipping — the Goodlatte bill — and the slot for Ryan.

But leaders still opposed the Queen of the Hill rule, and later the discharge petition, arguing both gave far too much power to the minority party.

That set off negotiations between Denham's camp and party leaders, as the conservative Freedom Caucus intervened and threatened to derail an unrelated measure, the farm bill, if Ryan and Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — GOP faces ‘green wave’ in final stretch to the midterms Conservatives fear Trump will cut immigration deal Democrats in swing districts advised to avoid talking about immigration MORE (R-Calif.) did not stop the discharge petition.

Those negotiations could yield a vote on the Goodlatte bill — almost certain to fail — and an alternate immigration plan designed to garner 218 Republican votes in the House and then possibily win passage in the Senate. But finding a bill that can win broad GOP support in the House has proven elusive since Trump's DACA announcement in September.

The negotiations between Ryan, Denham and Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — GOP faces ‘green wave’ in final stretch to the midterms Fusion GPS co-founder pleads the Fifth in Congress, attorney cries McCarthyism Fusion GPS co-founder pleads the Fifth following House GOP subpoena MORE (R-N.C.) have struck a nerve with Democrats, who don't want to be left out of the legislative process on one of their core issues. 

Democrats are keen to prove their proposals, the Dream Act and the USA Act, have wide support among members. They're also predicting the Goodlatte bill would have a weak showing, countering the notion of widespread support for Trump's immigration policies.

They also expect the fourth proposal — presumably similar to the deal being negotiated between Ryan, Denham and Meadows — to garner fewer votes than either of the bills they support.

- Updated at 6:19 p.m.