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GOP nearing end game on immigration votes

House Republicans left Washington for their 11-day Memorial Day recess without solving the vexing immigration issue that is dividing them just months before the midterm elections.

Yet the effort by GOP centrists to force immigration votes gained steam before Thursday’s exit, suggesting Republican leaders may soon be forced to address legislation protecting the so-called Dreamers, perhaps as early as next month.

Two more Republicans and six Democrats signed their name Thursday to a discharge petition, leaving supporters just five signatures short of being able to bypass Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanCPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be Cruz hires Trump campaign press aide as communications director Bottom line MORE (R-Wis.) and force a series of votes to protect hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S.

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That leaves Ryan and GOP leaders with a narrow window to negotiate an agreement between the party’s warring conservative and centrist factions over legislation to salvage the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which President TrumpDonald TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress MORE wants to dismantle.

But the leading proponents of the petition say they have the support locked down to reach the magic number of 218, even if the final signatures have not yet materialized. Heading into the recess Thursday morning, some centrist Republicans indicated they might endorse the petition when Congress returns if GOP leaders are unable to secure a separate DACA deal by June 7.

Leadership has scheduled a two-hour, all-conference immigration meeting for that very day.

“Everybody’s negotiating still,” said Rep. Dennis RossDennis Alan RossBalancing act: Biden must redefine the US-Saudi relationship Iran begins restricting watchdogs' access to nuclear sites: report Iran poses early test for Biden's diplomacy-first approach MORE (R-Fla.), a senior deputy whip. “So we’re giving them 10 days to see what happens. At least I am.”

Ross said he might sign the petition when Congress returns to Washington in June, but added, “I’m not there yet.”

Rep. Tom ReedTom ReedTaylor Swift celebrates House passage of Equality Act Here are the three GOP lawmakers who voted for the Equality Act House passes sweeping protections for LGBTQ people MORE (R-N.Y.) was not as patient. The co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, Reed endorsed the petition on the House floor during Thursday’s votes. Rep. Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickTaylor Swift celebrates House passage of Equality Act Here are the three GOP lawmakers who voted for the Equality Act House passes sweeping protections for LGBTQ people MORE (R-Pa.) added his name a short time later, bringing the number of Republican signatures up to 23.

"I gave them my word I'd sign before I left," Reed told The Hill on Thursday. "Leadership and the Freedom Caucus needed to see continuing movement toward arming the [discharge-petition] device. They are truly in the final stage of making a deal. If they don't, all bets are off." 

GOP leaders are desperately trying to head off the discharge push by coming up with a solution that satisfies both centrist Republicans and those in the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. The centrists say they want nothing short of a permanent solution for recipients of the DACA program — including eventual citizenship opportunities — while immigration hard-liners dismiss a “special” path to citizenship as amnesty for undocumented immigrants.

Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloFormer GOP lawmaker: Republican Party 'engulfed in lies and fear' House GOP lawmaker unexpectedly shakes up Senate trial The Memo: Historic vote leaves Trump more isolated than ever MORE (R-Fla.), the centrist sponsor of the discharge petition, said there’s room for compromise between those two positions. 

“This is a technical issue. For us, it’s important that young immigrants brought to the country as children — the victims of the immigration system — have a bridge into the legal immigration system,” he said. “And no one at any of our meetings has said that that’s unacceptable.” 

The leaders of the Freedom Caucus are fighting to sink the discharge petition, fearing it will empower the minority Democrats to send their preferred DACA bill to the Senate — and keep the conservative base at home come Election Day. Freedom Caucus leaders are pushing to secure a vote on their favored bill, sponsored 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.). That measure would provide temporary legal protections for Dreamers, but no pathway to citizenship. Last week, those conservatives killed the Republicans’ farm bill because GOP leaders refused to vote first on the Goodlatte proposal. 

Yet the Goodlatte bill lacks the Republican support to pass the House, let alone the Senate. And Democrats view the severe enforcement provisions in the bill as a non-starter. House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump shows he holds stranglehold on GOP, media in CPAC barnburner Biden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday referred to the legislation as “the Make America White Again bill.”

GOP negotiators appeared to make some progress Wednesday during a lengthy meeting in the Capitol office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyTrump calls on Republicans to 'get rid' of Cheney, other GOP critics Trump seeks to cement hold on GOP McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE (R-Calif.). McCarthy’s California colleague, Rep. Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamBottom line Business groups breathe sigh of relief over prospect of divided government Ex-RNC, Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy charged in covert lobbying scheme MORE (R), a key centrist negotiator, told reporters Thursday that he left the meeting believing he had a “deal in principle” with GOP leaders and Freedom Caucus members.  

“It involved a permanent fix for Dreamers,” Denham said as he descended the Capitol steps.

But Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsHow scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses Kinzinger calls for people with info on Trump to come forward MORE (R-N.C.), who attended that gathering, told The Hill that Denham misspoke, even while saying that talks were moving in the right direction. 

“Flights were delayed and travel arrangements were adjusted to continue negotiations” on Thursday, Meadows said. “This would not have occurred if progress was not being made.”

Failure to reach an agreement would lend new urgency to the push for Curbelo’s discharge petition, a procedural gambit that rarely works because it forces members of the majority party to buck their own leadership. Curbelo, Denham and several other leaders of the discharge petition effort all represent districts with heavy Hispanic populations, and all are facing tough reelection contests in November. 

If all 193 House Democrats were to endorse the petition, Curbelo would need 25 Republicans to hit the 218 mark — two more than have currently signed on. But three Texas border Democrats are holding out — Reps. Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaLobbying world COVID-19 is wild card as Pelosi faces tricky Speaker vote Sunday Democrats try to draft Cardenas to run campaign arm after disappointing night MORE, Vicente Gonzalez and Henry Cuellar — citing concerns that the process would lead to new border wall construction. And at least one of those Democrats says his opposition is immoveable.

“I’m not in the middle on that thing,” Vela warned Wednesday. “I’m a ‘no.’”

Those close to leadership say they’re confident that Ryan will find a way to bridge the divide, thereby defusing the internal fight over the discharge petition. 

“All parties are working together in good faith,” said Rep. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerSix ways to visualize a divided America House panel spars over GameStop frenzy, trading apps Republicans rally to keep Cheney in power MORE (R-Mo.), who is close to leadership. “I’ve very hopeful they’ll be able to work out a deal.” 

In the meantime, as lawmakers return home for the Memorial Day recess, Democrats are predicting the GOP holdouts are in for an earful from pro-DACA constituents.

“It’s going to be very loud for some of these members,” said Rep. Peter Aguilar (D-Calif.). 

Juliegrace Brufke contributed.