GOP centrists threaten to use conservative’s weapon against them

GOP centrists threaten to use conservative’s weapon against them
© Greg Nash

Some moderate House Republicans are threatening to use a tactic typically employed by conservative hard-liners in the Freedom Caucus: voting down a rule to block what they view as bad legislation.

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.), Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamBottom line Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Former GOP Rep. Walters joins energy company MORE (R-Calif.) and other centrist Republicans are fighting for a vote on bipartisan legislation to shield young undocumented immigrants from deportation. They’re now within striking distance of the 218 signatures needed for a “discharge petition” to trigger a vote on the bill by Reps. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdSunday Talk Shows: Lawmakers look ahead to House vote on articles of impeachment, Senate trial Congressional Hispanic Caucus campaign arm endorses two Texas Democrats Group of veterans call on lawmakers to support impeachment, 'put country over politics' MORE (R-Texas) and Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarHispanic Caucus dedicates Day of the Dead altar to migrants who died in US custody Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to testify on Libra | Extremists find home on Telegram app | Warren blasts Facebook for not removing anti-Biden ad | California outlaws facial recognition in police body cameras | China rips US tech sanctions House Democrats introduce new legislation to combat foreign election interference MORE (D-Calif.).

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But under pressure from the Freedom Caucus, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay House Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea MORE (R-Wis.) and his leadership team have promised a separate vote on a more conservative immigration alternative authored 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.).

Freedom Caucus leaders have warned that a vote on the Goodlatte bill would effectively kill the centrists’ efforts to circumvent leadership and force a series of votes on four immigration bills, including their bipartisan USA Act and the Goodlatte bill.

So now, the centrist lawmakers are putting GOP leadership on notice: If Ryan and his team bring the Goodlatte bill to the floor — without allowing a vote on Hurd and Aguilar's bill — the centrists say they will vote “no” on the rule. If enough Republicans defect and defeat the rule, the Goodlatte bill would be prevented from coming to the floor.

“Our members — those who have signed [the discharge petition] and those who will — are fully prepared to confront and defeat any underhanded tactics to disrupt our efforts,” Curbelo, one of the discharge petition leaders, told The Hill. “We will respond to cowardice with courage. We are proceeding with goodwill and we fully expect others to do the same.”

Rule votes typically fall along party lines, and leaders view defections on these votes as a serious offense. In recent years, members of the Freedom Caucus have created headaches for leadership and voted against rules.

In March, 25 conservatives bucked leadership and nearly took down a rule needed to advance a $1.3 trillion spending package to the floor to avert a government shutdown.

Now centrists are getting in on the act. Other centrist Republican lawmakers and aides confirmed there have been discussions about taking down the rule on a Goodlatte bill.

"It’s a conversation that’s occurring: How do you fight a nuclear threat? We go nuclear," said one centrist GOP leader. "It’s a logical reaction to what the Freedom Caucus is saying all the time, that they take down rules because it makes them relevant to the process.”

In addition to a vote on the Goodlatte bill, Ryan said he’d like a vote on a separate compromise immigration bill that could secure 218 Republican votes and President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE’s support. But many Republicans believe the only immigration bill that can get 218 votes is a bipartisan bill like the one from Hurd and Aguilar, which Trump opposes and the Freedom Caucus has dismissed as amnesty.

The Hurd–Aguilar bill would provide new border security funding, as well a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of recipients of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The more hard-line Goodlatte bill, meanwhile, would provide DACA recipients with temporary, three-year legal status protections but no path to citizenship. But Democrats say there’s no way they’d back the bill, even if Goodlatte tweaks it to attract moderate votes.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyGOP lawmakers jockey for positions as managers On The Money: Trump, China announce 'Phase One' trade deal | Supreme Court takes up fight over Trump financial records | House panel schedules hearing, vote on new NAFTA deal House panel to hold hearing, vote on Trump's new NAFTA proposal MORE (R-Calif.), who has been trying to broker an immigration deal between the moderate and conservative wings of the GOP conference, told The Hill he wasn’t aware of centrist Republicans threatening to vote down an immigration rule if they don’t get their way.

“It was really about policy and substance,” McCarthy said of a Tuesday afternoon meeting in his office that included Denham, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy GOP lawmakers jockey for positions as managers The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by UANI — Sparks fly as House Judiciary debates impeachment articles MORE (R-N.C.) and others. “I don’t see us taking each other’s rules down.”

Rafael Bernal contributed.