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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 Memo: Historic vote leaves Trump more isolated than ever The Memo: GOP and nation grapple with what comes next House Hispanic Republicans welcome four new members MORE (R-Fla.), Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamBusiness groups breathe sigh of relief over prospect of divided government Ex-RNC, Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy charged in covert lobbying scheme Bottom line 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 HurdHouse poised to override Trump veto for first time Lawmakers call for including creation of Latino, women's history museums in year-end spending deal House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit MORE (R-Texas) and Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarAOC v. Pelosi: Round 12? Maloney to lead Democrats' campaign arm House Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress MORE (D-Calif.).

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But under pressure from the Freedom Caucus, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBiden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Inauguration Day Revising the pardon power — let the Speaker and Congress have voices 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 GoodlatteBottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden Press: Trump's final presidential pardon: himself 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 TrumpBlinken holds first calls as Biden's secretary of State Senators discussing Trump censure resolution Dobbs: Republicans lost in 2020 because they 'forgot who was the true leader' 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 McCarthyFormer lawmakers call on leadership to focus on unity Cheney spokesperson on Gaetz: 'In Wyoming, the men don't wear make-up' Biden attends first church service as president in DC, stops at local bagel shop 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 MeadowsTrump ex-chief says Senate vote signals impeachment effort 'dead on arrival' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Inauguration Day Trump leaves White House, promises to be back in 'some form' MORE (R-N.C.) and others. “I don’t see us taking each other’s rules down.”

Rafael Bernal contributed.