Centrists on cusp of forcing immigration votes as petition grows

Centrists on cusp of forcing immigration votes as petition grows
© Greg Nash

Two more House Republicans have joined the discharge petition to force votes on immigration, potentially leaving centrists just two signatures short of success.

Reps. Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedGOP hopes dim on reclaiming House GOP hopes dim on reclaiming House Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record MORE (R-N.Y.) and Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Addressing climate change is a win for Republicans — why not embrace it? MORE (R-Pa.) signed the discharge petition Thursday before the House left town for the Memorial Day recess. If all Democrats endorse the petition, just two more GOP signatures would be needed to reach the magic number of 218.

House Republican leaders and conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus have fought to stop the petition, which was introduced by Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa Ex-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz MORE (R-Fla.). Leaders have warned that bypassing the usual process for an immigration bill would hand power to the Democrats.

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The petition would force votes on four immigration proposals; the one that received the most votes over 218 would be sent to the Senate.

Discharge petitions are seen as a major affront to leadership, but moderates said they had no choice but to act, given President TrumpDonald John TrumpBooker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Booker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' MORE's move to cancel the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. That program has allowed immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children to live, work and go to school in the United States.

Reed and Fitzpatrick's decision to sign the petition came after a meeting Wednesday between House GOP leadership, moderates and top conservatives. During the meeting, members of leadership requested moderates hold off on whipping additional members to sign the petition until after June 7, according to a GOP aide with knowledge of the negotiations.

Despite leaderships' call to hold off on gaining more signatures, proponents of the petition said they will continue to whip members for their support.

"We're continuing to move forward as exhibited today, more members signing on," Rep. 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.) told reporters Thursday. "But we're not to the full discharge. We're trying to allow negotiations to continue — we were very productive, very close yesterday."

The California Republican asserted that they had "reached an agreement in principle" about the next steps on immigration, saying they all want to see a permanent solution for "Dreamers" and stronger border security.

"We had an agreement in principle yesterday. Now it's putting that information on paper," he said. "So, assuming we can continue to move forward, that is something that we would bring to our conference on the 7th when we have our two-hour immigration meeting. But we're still prepared to move the rest of the votes at the point where this discussion breaks down."

But Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsFBI, warned early and often that Manafort file might be fake, used it anyway FBI, warned early and often that Manafort file might be fake, used it anyway Rep. Amash stokes talk of campaign against Trump MORE (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, denied that an agreement was reached in the meeting.

“I am in a meeting on immigration right now and there is NO deal in principle as I am negotiating right now. I think someone misunderstood Mr. Denham,” Meadows told The Hill. 

One of the sticking points in the immigration talks is whether there should be a vote on a bill allowing a special pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients. Moderates argue they should be able to use their legal status to apply for a green card.

"This is a pathway to citizenship," Denham said. "We've been very clear."

GOP leadership has directed Meadows and Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanCummings requests interview with Census official over new allegations on citizenship question Cummings requests interview with Census official over new allegations on citizenship question House Oversight Republicans release parts of Kobach, Trump officials' testimony on census citizenship question MORE (R-Ohio), another Freedom Caucus member, to decide whether they would be willing to allow a vote on legislation with a pathway to citizenship, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Moderates fear that the Freedom Caucus will vote against the rule on their preferred immigration bill, effectively blocking it from the floor.

Meadows has been adamant he doesn't believe there should be a special path to citizenship for DACA recipients.

"We would allow a normal pathway to citizenship, but not a special pathway to citizenship. It just means that they shouldn't get a special way to become a citizen by virtue of the fact that they came here illegally," he told reporters.

Denham said he believes all parties are negotiating in good faith, but said the centrists are ready to move forward with the discharge petition when needed. Members will not have a chance to sign it again until after next week's recess.

"We're still prepared to move the rest of the votes at the point where this discussion breaks down," he said.

Scott Wong and Melanie Zanona contributed.