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 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.), 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.) 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 HurdRepublicans offer support for Steve King challenger House Democrats target 2020 GOP incumbents in new ad The 9 House Republicans who support background checks MORE (R-Texas) and Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarDemocratic leaders seek balance amid liberal push to go big on immigration Katherine Clark quietly eyes leadership ascent The Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck MORE (D-Calif.).

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But under pressure from the Freedom Caucus, 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.) 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 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.).

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 TrumpTrump watching 'very closely' as Portland braces for dueling protests WaPo calls Trump admin 'another threat' to endangered species Are Democrats turning Trump-like? 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 McCarthyTrump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' Tlaib says she won't visit Israel after being treated like 'a criminal' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy 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 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.) and others. “I don’t see us taking each other’s rules down.”

Rafael Bernal contributed.