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 VelaDCCC faces mass staff shakeup: 'It's the Monday Night Massacre' DCCC exec resigns amid furor over minority representation Hispanic Democratic lawmakers hit DCCC over lack of diversity in top ranks 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 CurbeloOvernight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument Carbon tax shows new signs of life in Congress Democratic lawmaker pushes back on Castro's call to repeal law making illegal border crossings a crime 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 DenhamEx-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm Ex-GOP Rep. Denham heads to lobbying firm Crazy California an outlier? No, we are the canary in the coal mine 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 pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump 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 GoodlatteImmigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute 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 RyanEmbattled Juul seeks allies in Washington Ex-Parkland students criticize Kellyanne Conway Latina leaders: 'It's a women's world more than anything' 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 McCarthyI'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King Trump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' Tlaib says she won't visit Israel after being treated like 'a criminal' 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 MeadowsTrump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' Gun store billboard going after the 'Squad' being removed following backlash Hurd retirement leaves GOP gloomy on 2020 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.