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 PaulsenLawmakers beat lobbyists at charity hockey game The 8 House Republicans who voted against Trump’s border wall Minnesota New Members 2019 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.

Rep. Mark AmodeiMark Eugene AmodeiRevitalize our defense industrial base with mine permitting reform To reduce China's leverage, rebuild America's minerals supply chain GOP staves off immigration revolt — for now 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 to vote on background check bills next week Dems escalate gun fight a year after Parkland House panel advances bill to expand background checks for gun sales MORE (R-Pa.) and Rep. Dan NewhouseDaniel (Dan) Milton NewhouseImmigration groups press for pairing Dreamer benefits with border security Trump leaves GOP in turmoil with shutdown looming Washington governor announces killer whale recovery plan MORE (R-Wash.). “It’s no secret the Speaker doesn’t want a discharge petition.”

Further underscoring their fears, Rep. Austin ScottJames (Austin) Austin ScottOvernight Defense: Officials rush to deny writing anonymous op-ed | Lawmakers offer measure on naming NATO headquarters after McCain | US, India sign deal on sharing intel Lawmakers introduce resolution to back naming NATO headquarters after McCain Republicans mull new punishments for dissident lawmakers 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.

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.) is not known to use the same strong-arm tactics as his predecessor, John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerEx-GOP lawmaker joins marijuana trade group Crowley, Shuster moving to K Street On unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 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 RossEx-GOP lawmaker joins family firm  Ex-GOP lawmaker joins Florida lobbying firm Incoming GOP lawmaker says he may have violated campaign finance law 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 ScaliseOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Texas man with politician hit list, illegally 3D printed rifle sentenced to eight years The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Will there be any last-minute shutdown drama? 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 KatkoThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race House Dems release 2020 GOP 'retirements to watch' for Overnight Defense: Gillibrand offers bill to let transgender troops serve | Pentagon ready to protect US personnel in Venezuela | Dems revive fight with Trump over Saudis 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 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.), 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 BoehnerEx-GOP lawmaker joins marijuana trade group Crowley, Shuster moving to K Street On unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 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 WebsterLawmakers propose banning shark fin trade Republicans mull new punishments for dissident lawmakers Dems eyeing smaller magic number for House majority 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.