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 CurbeloThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa Ex-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz Disinvited GOP lawmaker turns up at Dem hearing MORE (R-Fla.), Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamEx-GOP Rep. Denham heads to lobbying firm Crazy California an outlier? No, we are the canary in the coal mine Polling editor says news outlets should be more cautious calling elections 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 HurdOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Senate panel advances bill to protect government devices against cyber threats House passes amendment to block funding for transgender troops ban MORE (R-Texas) and Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Hispanic Caucus seeks to retain voice in House leadership House passes bill to protect 'Dreamers' MORE (D-Calif.).

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But under pressure from the Freedom Caucus, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Ocasio-Cortez calls out Steve King, Liz Cheney amid controversy over concentration camp remarks Democrats talk up tax credits to counter Trump law 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 GoodlatteTop Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling 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 TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates 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 rep: Trump needs to retaliate against Iran to deter other hostile nations Ocasio-Cortez: McCarthy should apologize to migrant children separated from their parents Lawmakers warn of 'grave situation' after drone shot down 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 MeadowsDarrell Issa eyes return to Congress Oversight Republicans: 'Hundreds' of migrants in caravans have criminal histories FBI, warned early and often that Manafort file might be fake, used it anyway MORE (R-N.C.) and others. “I don’t see us taking each other’s rules down.”

Rafael Bernal contributed.