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 CurbeloEx-GOP lawmaker joins marijuana trade group Dems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE (R-Fla.), Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamCrazy California an outlier? No, we are the canary in the coal mine Polling editor says news outlets should be more cautious calling elections Rep. Valadao officially concedes in California race 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 HurdWhite House, GOP defend Trump emergency declaration GOP rep: Trump emergency declaration puts US in 'uncharted territory' Immigration groups press for pairing Dreamer benefits with border security MORE (R-Texas) and Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarLeft flexes muscle in immigration talks Immigration groups press for pairing Dreamer benefits with border security Lawmakers haggling over border dollars much lower than Trump's demand MORE (D-Calif.).

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But under pressure from the Freedom Caucus, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFive takeaways from McCabe’s allegations against Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race McCabe: No one in 'Gang of Eight' objected to FBI probe into Trump 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 GoodlatteIt’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling House GOP probe into FBI, DOJ comes to an end 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 TrumpSchiff urges GOP colleagues to share private concerns about Trump publicly US-China trade talks draw criticism for lack of women in pictures Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall 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 McCarthySteve King spins GOP punishment into political weapon Steve King asks for Congressional Record correction over white supremacist quote Steve King urges supporters to pray for his committee assignments to be restored: report 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 MeadowsFive takeaways from McCabe’s allegations against Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight Winners and losers in the border security deal MORE (R-N.C.) and others. “I don’t see us taking each other’s rules down.”

Rafael Bernal contributed.