GOP centrists face decision day on Dreamer petition

GOP centrists face decision day on Dreamer petition
© Greg Nash - Getty Images

Republican centrists will have to show their cards on immigration Tuesday after a month of gamesmanship within the House Republican Conference.

If the centrists demanding votes on legislation to protect “Dreamers,” who came to the country illegally as children, can get 218 signatures on their petition, it will force a vote this month that Republican leaders have sought to avoid.

If they do not, they’ll miss a deadline, punting the issue to July and taking their foot off the accelerator.

ADVERTISEMENT

The moderates will begin the day three signatures shy of 218, but they insist they have the support to reach the threshold.

The question is whether the handful of GOP lawmakers who have remained open to signing on will actually do so — or whether they will back off to allow more time for negotiations.

The pragmatic approach, preserving a unified GOP front ahead of a difficult midterm election, has its advocates. And GOP leaders have taken steps to try to cool enthusiasm for the discharge petition — which represents a clear challenge to leadership.

Rep. Dennis RossDennis Alan RossReshaping US aid to the Palestinians Trump allies want Congress to find anonymous op-ed author Election Countdown: Trump jumps into Ohio special election fight | What to watch in Tennessee primaries | Koch network freezes out Republicans who crossed them | Dead heat in Texas, Nevada Senate races | How celebs are getting into the midterms MORE (R-Fla.), who has been receptive to signing the petition, suggested Monday that he won’t sign on after winning a promise from GOP leaders that they’ll consider proposals this year that not only protect the Dreamers and bolster border security, but also tackle a guest-worker program that’s crucial in Florida.

“He has received a commitment that Leadership intends to move legislation to achieve these reforms,” Kyle Glenn, Ross’s chief of staff, said in an email.

If the centrists don’t get to 218 on Tuesday, they’d still have a chance to force a vote in July.

But doubts will also grow about how serious they really are about forcing a vote and challenging GOP leaders and the House Freedom Caucus.

While conservatives in the Freedom Caucus have frequently bucked their leadership and have been willing to cause chaos on the House floor, revolts from centrists have been less common.

The difference this time could be the fall elections, as centrists in several pockets of the country representing swing districts are facing pressure to take action. Delaying the vote would renew questions about just how serious the Republican moderates are when it comes to protecting Dreamers.

There also have been signs of mounting frustration at the control the Freedom Caucus has on floor proceedings, which could be a factor.

The obscure rules surrounding discharge petitions dictate that June 12 is the final day to secure 218 signatures if the House is to vote on the issue this month.

Hitting that number on Tuesday would set up a vote on June 25 to salvage the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE is fighting to rescind.

If petition supporters fail to meet that deadline, they have only one more chance to force floor action ahead of November’s midterms: Signatures would have to be in by July 10, and the vote would take place July 23.

Both sides have indicated that, even if the petition gets 218 signatures on Tuesday, the negotiations will continue to avert a June 25 “Queen of the Hill” process, which would feature votes on four separate DACA bills spanning a spectrum of ideological approaches.

“I’m not that worried about the petition,” said Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), a conservative who’s pressing for the creation of a merit-based visa system to benefit both the Dreamers and other groups of immigrants.

“Even if they get their number … the vote is not going to be for a long time,” he said.

A number of the Republicans behind the petition — including Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Cuomo wins and Manafort plea deal Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless Bipartisan trio asks US intelligence to investigate ‘deepfakes’ MORE (Fla.) and Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamTrump attacks Dems on farm bill House Republicans push for vote on Violence Against Women Act Steyer group launching 0,000 digital ad campaign targeting millennials MORE (Calif.) — are facing tough reelection contests in heavily Hispanic districts and feel a prominent victory on DACA would help their chances in November.

But the debate has become an election-year headache for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanElection Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls On The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Nancy Pelosi: Will she remain the ‘Face of the Franchise’? MORE (R-Wis.) and other Republican leaders, who are scrambling to prevent an all-out intraparty war over an issue that has long divided the GOP. They’re racing to produce a workable immigration deal, acceptable to both their centrist and conservative wings, that can defuse the discharge petition and win 218 Republican votes on the House floor.

The talks continued over the weekend, according to a senior Republican aide, but if they yielded any progress, neither side is saying so. And GOP leaders have taken pains to distance themselves from the policy specifics, emphasizing that they’re merely facilitating the weeks-long discussions between the moderates and conservatives.

“The goal is to allow both sides of the conference an opportunity to be on record while averting the discharge petition,” the GOP aide said in an email. “The proposals are being offered by members and leadership is coordinating. The speaker was not in the office on Friday or at the latest meeting. He is not writing this plan nor is leadership.”

A deal has proven elusive, as the different factions of the party pursue potentially incompatible outcomes.

Conservatives want to avoid granting “amnesty,” which could chill the party base ahead of November’s elections, while moderates want to take a message of sympathy for Dreamers back to their districts.

Still, some senior Republicans are downplaying the rift, as the same leaders who are attempting to block the discharge petition are providing millions of dollars in campaign support to vulnerable moderates.

“If you can’t disagree with your leadership on an issue that’s important to you and still get their help, then your leadership isn’t doing their job,” said Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Overnight Health Care: House GOP blocks Trump-backed drug pricing provision | Maryland sues to protect ObamaCare | Insurers offer help to hurricane-impacted areas House GOP blocks Trump-supported drug pricing provision from spending bill MORE (R-Okla.). “Their No. 1 job is to maintain the Republican majority.”

But conservatives on the far right of the conference say a deal — or even passage of the hard-line bill proposed by Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteVirginia reps urge Trump to declare federal emergency ahead of Hurricane Florence Republicans mull new punishments for dissident lawmakers Republicans ready to grill Bruce Ohr as Trump-DOJ feud escalates MORE (R-Va.) — will demoralize the Republican base.

“It looks to me like some of the leadership PACs have been pretty strongly behind those folks that are for amnesty,” said Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingWarren calls out GOP congressman for 'white supremacist propaganda,' encourages donations to his opponent GOP lawmaker accuses black students of supporting 'George Wallace's segregation' The stakes are sky-high for the pro-life cause in the upcoming midterms MORE (R-Iowa).

“I guess it’s their decision — it’s their leadership PAC — but is it going to make the conservatives in America happy?”

King’s contention is that all the proposed bills so far allow different groups of immigrants a path to legal status, whether said immigrants were in the country legally or not.

“And this whole march down here towards amnesty is going to insult the base. Whenever they figure this out, the base is going to be up in arms,” said King. “[Republican base voters] just don’t know this yet because you’ve got too many Republicans saying it’s not amnesty, but you can’t redefine amnesty. That’s the thing, isn’t it? No matter how hard they try, they can’t redefine amnesty.”