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Republicans fear retribution for joining immigration revolt

Republicans fear retribution for joining immigration revolt
© Greg Nash

Centrist Republicans on Wednesday moved one signature closer to forcing immigration votes on the House floor, but encountered headwinds as some Republicans fretted about the possibility of retribution from leadership.

Rep. Erik PaulsenErik Philip PaulsenHouse panel opens probe into Tom Reed over sexual misconduct allegations GOP Rep. Tom Reed accused of sexual misconduct Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips wins primary MORE (Minn.) on Wednesday became the latest Republican to add his name to the petition, leaving the centrists just a few signatures short of being able to trigger the votes.

But it remains to be seen whether several Republicans who are sympathetic toward the discharge petition will defy leadership and sign on. Some of those lawmakers have told the petition leaders they are concerned about being punished if they back the insurgent effort, according to a Republican aide familiar with the conversations.

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Rep. Mark AmodeiMark Eugene AmodeiMarjorie Taylor Greene's delay tactics frustrate GOP Capitol Police head cites Biden speech threat for keeping security high Acting chief acknowledges police were unprepared for mob MORE (R-Nev.), who signed the petition, said he has heard similar concerns from colleagues.

“That’s the card that’s being played right now,” Amodei told The Hill.

“I think they’re facing pressure not to sign it,” Amodei added, pointing to Reps. Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickHouse passes bill to prevent violence in health care workplaces House panel opens probe into Tom Reed over sexual misconduct allegations Fitzpatrick replaces Tom Reed as House Problem Solvers co-chair MORE (R-Pa.) and Rep. Dan NewhouseDaniel (Dan) Milton NewhouseRepublicans who backed Trump impeachment see fundraising boost Overnight Energy: Progressives fear infrastructure's climate plans won't survive Senate | EPA to propose vehicle emissions standards by July's end | Poll shows growing partisan divide on climate change House Republicans who backed Trump impeachment warn Democrats on Iowa election challenge MORE (R-Wash.). “It’s no secret the Speaker doesn’t want a discharge petition.”

Further underscoring their fears, Rep. Austin ScottJames (Austin) Austin ScottHouse Republican takes part in hearing while driving car Overnight Defense: Tim Kaine moves to claw back war powers authority | Study on sexual harassment and assault in the military Commissioners tasked with scrubbing Confederate base names sworn-in at first meeting MORE (R-Ga.) stood up during a GOP conference meeting on Tuesday morning and called on leadership to punish lawmakers who sign the petition or who vote against rules setting up floor debate for other immigration bills, according to two Republican sources. 

“After leadership presentations, somebody gets up and says, ‘There ought to be discipline … for people who vote against rules, for discharge petitions. How could these people be committee chairs and stuff like that?’” said one Republican lawmaker in attendance.

“Leadership did not comment,” the lawmaker added.

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Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOn The Money: Senate confirms Gensler to lead SEC | Senate GOP to face off over earmarks next week | Top Republican on House tax panel to retire Trump faces test of power with early endorsements Lobbying world MORE (R-Wis.) is not known to use the same strong-arm tactics as his predecessor, John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerGOP struggles to rein in nativism Former GOP lawmaker calls idea of 'America First' caucus 'racism in a jar' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults can get vaccine; decision Friday on J&J vax MORE (R-Ohio). And many Republicans who have held off on signing the petition say they are giving leadership some breathing room to broker a deal.

Rep. Dennis RossDennis Alan RossBiden needs to tear down bureaucratic walls and refocus Middle East programs Balancing act: Biden must redefine the US-Saudi relationship Iran begins restricting watchdogs' access to nuclear sites: report MORE (R-Fla.), a senior member of the GOP whip team, pointed out that Paulsen, the latest Republican to sign the petition, is roommates with Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseRepublicans who backed Trump impeachment see fundraising boost Wall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study Scalise: House would 'take action' against Gaetz if DOJ filed charges MORE (R-La.). 

Still, the growing concern over retribution comes as the petition is just four Republican signatures shy of succeeding, assuming all Democrats sign on. Paulsen, a top Democratic target in the midterm elections, became the 21st Republican to sign the petition on Wednesday.

Supporters of the effort continue to express confidence that they will be able to clinch the necessary signatures to force immigration votes if Republican leaders can’t work out a deal.

“We absolutely positively have them. We’ll be ready to go on [June 7] if this falls through,” Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoTop House Republicans ask Harris for meeting on border Personal security costs for anti-Trump lawmakers spiked post-riot New US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations MORE (R-N.Y.) told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the date of a GOP conference meeting on immigration.

Ryan and his top lieutenants are feverishly working to quash the petition, warning it will hand control of the floor to Democrats. They have been meeting with both moderates and conservatives to hash out an alternative agreement allowing immigration votes on the floor.

Centrists don’t usually play hardball with leadership, but they are employing aggressive tactics after growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of action. 

They are seeking a permanent solution for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides protection from deportation for young immigrants who came to the country as children. President Trump announced he was ending the program last year.

However, it’s unclear how far the moderate Republicans are willing to go in their quest to force immigration votes. Unlike the far-right House Freedom Caucus, which has long been a thorn in the side of leadership for years, many of the petition signers or would-be signers are close to leadership and don’t typically rock the boat. 

In addition to the petition, the centrists are also threatening to torpedo a rule that would bring a conservative immigration bill from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to the floor, unless they also get a guaranteed vote on moderate immigration legislation.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsBoehner finally calls it as he sees it Stephen Miller launching group to challenge Democrats' policies through lawsuits A year with the coronavirus: How we got here MORE (R-N.C.), who has called on leadership to do everything in their power to stop the discharge petition from moving forward, pointed out that conservatives have faced threats from GOP leadership before for employing similar tactics. Meadows predicted that there could be similar blowback for centrists. 

“When I voted against a rule they threatened to take away all travel, they threatened to take away any [National Republican Congressional Committee] contributions,” he told reporters earlier this week. “You know most of those people that were on the discharge petition are much closer to leadership than members of the Freedom Caucus — so I don’t see them voting against the rule.” 

Under BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerGOP struggles to rein in nativism Former GOP lawmaker calls idea of 'America First' caucus 'racism in a jar' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults can get vaccine; decision Friday on J&J vax MORE, it was not uncommon for members to be punished if they rebelled against leadership. 

Meadows had his Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee gavel stripped, and then reinstated, after voting against leadership and failing to pay party dues.

And Rep. Daniel WebsterDaniel Alan WebsterMellman: A Republican betrayal Bottom line Republican senators and courage MORE (R-Fla.) and former Rep. Rich NugentRichard (Rich) B. NugentRepublicans mull new punishments for dissident lawmakers Republicans fear retribution for joining immigration revolt Former aide will run to replace lawmaker MORE (R-Fla.) were both kicked off the House Rules Committee, also known as the Speaker’s committee, for voting against Boehner for Speaker in 2015.

Newhouse, who replaced one of them on the Rules panel, is sympathetic to the discharge petition effort. But Newhouse also said he would prefer to work through regular order, underscoring the sense that members of the Rules Committee are expected to remain in line with leadership. 

"It’s the nuclear option, if there is no other alternative. It’s certainly not my first choice,” Newhouse said. “If we could work through regular order — I’m on the Rules Committee — [so] if we could work through regular order on this, that’s my preference.” 

- Scott Wong and Mike Lillis contributed.