GOP dissidents on cusp of forcing immigration votes

Centrist Republicans are within striking distance of forcing immigration votes in the House, setting the stage for a dramatic election-year clash.

More than 200 lawmakers — including 20 Republicans — have now signed a discharge petition to circumvent leadership and trigger a series of votes on the floor dealing with immigration.

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As of Tuesday evening, petition proponents needed just 15 more signatures to reach the magic number of 218, but it will be this last group that will be hardest to get with GOP leaders trying to defeat the effort.

If all 193 Democrats sign the petition, as they are expected to, the centrists would need only five more Republican signatures for the petition to succeed.

Rep. Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaPelosi agrees to term limits vote; insurgency collapses Tim Ryan backs term limits deal with Pelosi Pelosi, Dem rebels near deal on term limits for party leaders MORE (D-Texas) is withholding his support, but may change his tune if he’s the last lawmaker blocking the effort.

“We’re having more and more members sign on. ... We’ve always been confident we have the votes, so it’s just signing more members up this week,” Rep. Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamPolling editor says news outlets should be more cautious calling elections Rep. Valadao officially concedes in California race Ryan casts doubt on 'bizarre' California election results MORE (R-Calif.), who is leading the insurgent effort with Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloThe Hill's Morning Report — Will Trump strike a deal with Chuck and Nancy? GOP lawmakers call for autopsy on 'historic losses' Bipartisan group of lawmakers propose landmark carbon tax MORE (R-Fla.), told The Hill on Tuesday. “We have a strategy all week long.”

Rep. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerReconstruction redux Dems play ‘Let’s make a deal’ with Nancy Pelosi Problem Solvers Dems urge Pelosi to publicly back three rules changes MORE (D-N.J.), a co-chairman of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a 48-member bipartisan group of centrists, said this week is a now-or-never moment for the discharge petition. The House is leaving town next week for the Memorial Day recess.

“We’re working incredibly hard to help get over the hump, here. … I’m cautiously optimistic that we can get there, but I know it’s a big hill to climb,” Gottheimer said. “I believe it’s this week or it’s not going to happen. … But I think we’ll know [Wednesday] if this is happening.”

Rep. Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedIncoming Dem lawmaker announces more new members support Pelosi Rising Dem star to back Pelosi: 'You can't beat someone with no one' Dems play ‘Let’s make a deal’ with Nancy Pelosi MORE (N.Y.), the Republican co-chairman of the Problem Solvers group, said time is running out for leaders to act, suggesting he’s close to endorsing the petition. 

“Obviously, everything’s coming to a head. ... Friday was another step in this process demonstrating where we’re at, in my opinion, and we’ve got to break this gridlock,” Reed said. “So, we’ll see what happens over the next couple of days.”

Frustrated lawmakers are desperate for action on legislation providing a permanent solution for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides protection from deportation for some immigrants who came to the country as children, that President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump Memo Comey used to brief Trump on dossier released: report MORE is ending. 

But Republican leaders have been scrambling to quell the discharge petition, which they say will hand over power to the minority.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report – Cohen says Trump knew payments were wrong | GOP in turmoil over Trump shutdown threat | Kyl to resign from Senate at year's end Trump leaves GOP in turmoil with shutdown looming Senate heads toward floor fight on criminal justice bill MORE (R-Wis.), who was supposed to stay in Wisconsin through Tuesday evening for his son’s junior high school graduation, flew back to D.C. early to address the GOP conference on Tuesday morning. During a closed-door meeting, Ryan urged unity among Republicans and expressed frustration over the discharge petition and last week’s failed farm bill vote, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting.

“He said we need to start acting like we’re in charge of the place, and being divided doesn’t help,” said Rep. Mark AmodeiMark Eugene AmodeiRevitalize our defense industrial base with mine permitting reform To reduce China's leverage, rebuild America's minerals supply chain GOP staves off immigration revolt — for now MORE (R-Nev.). “He was frustrated … I think he used the word ‘crap’ once. For Paul Ryan, ‘crap’ is pretty blue language.”

Leadership has floated an alternative plan to the discharge petition that would allow a series of immigration votes of their choosing during the third week in June, but the details of the process are still being worked out.

“I’m sure we’ll have a number of come-to-Jesus meetings when we get back from the break,” said Rep. Joe BartonJoe Linus BartonPrivacy legislation could provide common ground for the newly divided Congress Texas New Members 2019 Dem wins leave behind a more conservative GOP conference MORE (R-Texas), a co-sponsor of the Dream Act who has not yet signed the petition. “They’ll try to figure out where the sweet spot is on the DACA population and some of the things that conservatives want.”

One of the measures that would get a vote under leadership’s plan is a hard-line measure from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteTrump attorney general pick a prolific donor to GOP candidates, groups: report GOP, Comey have tense day — with promise of a second date The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Trump taps William Barr as new AG | Nauert picked to replace Haley at UN | Washington waits for bombshell Mueller filing MORE (R-Va.), which is favored by conservatives but has struggled to get 218 supporters.

With a floor vote on the horizon, Goodlatte has been proposing changes to his conservative immigration bill this week to attract more support.

One idea being circulated to moderate Republicans and other offices, according to a copy of the text obtained by The Hill, is to make the legislation more generous for DACA recipients.

The original measure would have provided DACA recipients with a temporary, three-year legal status that could be renewed indefinitely. But the modified version would lengthen their legal status to six years, though immigrants would still not be offered a path to citizenship under the plan.

Goodlatte, on Monday, met with the leaders of the four main Republican groups in Congress — the Republican Study Committee, House Freedom Caucus, Tuesday Group and Republican Main Street Partnership — to gather feedback on the proposed changes.

Leaders also agreed to allow a vote on more moderate immigration legislation, the details of which have not yet been hammered out. But reaching a deal on that second bill is likely to be challenging.

Moderates are also concerned that the far-right Freedom Caucus would take down a rule allowing a moderate immigration bill to come to the floor, especially if the legislation grants citizenship to so-called Dreamers. That’s why Denham is pushing for a single rule to set up floor debate on both the Goodlatte measure and whatever centrist bill they come up with.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTrump names Mulvaney acting chief of staff GOP lawmaker predicts Kushner will be Trump’s next chief of staff Chris Christie declines White House chief of staff role MORE (R-N.C.), however, said he wouldn’t be supportive of bringing up a rule that also includes the legislation being worked on by Denham, arguing they don’t know what the final product will look like.

“I think it’s two separate votes. I mean, the truth of the matter is, you know, we’ll vote on the Goodlatte bill as it was promised some seven months ago,” Meadows said. “Let’s vote on that, and then if we know the parameters of the other bill with Mr. Denham or anybody else, I don’t envision any bloc of votes voting against the rule from our side.”

Meadows called on leadership to do everything in their power to stop the discharge petition from moving forward, adding he believes bringing up the Goodlatte bill is the easiest way to derail moderates’ efforts.

“When I voted against a rule they threatened to take away all travel, they threatened to take away any [National Republican Congressional Committee] contributions,” he said. “You know most of those people that were on the discharge petition are much closer to leadership than members of the Freedom Caucus — so I don’t see them voting against the rule.”

With concerns growing among moderates about leadership’s alternative plan, more Republicans could back the petition.

Some Republican lawmakers say they’re reserving the right to endorse the discharge petition but want to give Ryan and GOP leaders more time to find a solution.

Rep. Daniel Newhouse (R-Wash.), who spearheaded a December letter urging immediate action on DACA, falls into that category, saying he’d sign on only “if there is no other alternative.”

“It’s the nuclear option,” said Newhouse, who sits on the Rules Committee. “If we could work through regular order on this, that’s my preference.”

Rep. Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.), who’s retiring at the end of the year, said he’s sympathetic to the discharge petition supporters, but he’s sticking by Ryan.

“We have to have a semblance of a chain of command and order. So I’d be more deferential to Paul, and what Paul wants me to do. … But I respect and appreciate what their urgency is,” Rooney said. “This is why this is so hard, because you don’t want to undermine Paul. I want him to be able to finish his job strong.” 

Juliegrace Brufke contributed.