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Republicans scramble for last-minute immigration deal

Republicans scramble for last-minute immigration deal
© Greg Nash

House Republicans were scrambling Tuesday evening to hammer out an eleventh-hour immigration deal that protects "Dreamers" and averts a potentially damaging partisan fight on a highly divisive issue less than five months before the critical midterm elections.

Leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus brought to their members a new legislative offer from centrist Republicans, but emerged from a closed-door meeting saying they weren’t ready to back the parameters for a deal yet.

Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsFusion GPS co-founder will invoke 'constitutional rights not to testify': lawyers House panels postpone meeting with Rosenstein This week: Rosenstein set to meet with House GOP MORE (R-N.C.) said he called GOP leadership and moderates after their caucus meeting to lay out their terms for accepting the proposal. The group wants two separate “rules” that would allow separate votes on a conservative immigration bill from Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFusion GPS co-founder will invoke 'constitutional rights not to testify': lawyers House GOP sets deposition deadline for Fusion GPS co-founder Kid Rock, John Rich visit White House for music copyright bill signing MORE (R-Va.) and the compromise measure that House Republicans have been trying to negotiate.

“Moderates are having discussions on whether that’s an acceptable proposal. So we’ll look to hear back from them hopefully in the next 30 minutes or so,” Meadows told reporters.

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“What we’re talking about right now is how we would facilitate a vote on a bill that would closely resemble the framework that was discussed. If the moderates can agree to the terms I put forth, I can deliver the votes.”

Looming over the debate is the centrists’ procedural threat, known as a discharge petition, to compel action this month on four separate bills propping up the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Those moderates have already gathered 215 signatures on the petition, and maintain they have enough support to hit 218, which would force the DACA bills to the floor.

But time has become a factor. If they reach 218 endorsements by the end of Tuesday, it would force immigration votes on June 25. A failure to win 218 signatures before Wednesday would mean the moderates would have just one more shot, on July 23, to force the issue before November’s midterm elections.

The centrists noted that the floor session would stretch until 10 p.m. on Tuesday night, leaving a small and closing window for any holdouts to endorse their petition.

Immigration negotiations had carried through the weekend and into Tuesday as lawmakers trickled back into town. A group consisting of reform-minded centrists and conservative immigration hawks huddled in the Capitol office of Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcCarthy introduces bill to fully fund Trump's border wall On The Money: McCarthy offers bill to fully fund Trump border wall | US to press China on currency in trade talks | Mnuchin plans to go ahead with Saudi trip | How America's urban-rural divide is changing the Dems Election Countdown: Minnesota Dems worry Ellison allegations could cost them key race | Dems struggle to mobilize Latino voters | Takeaways from Tennessee Senate debate | Poll puts Cruz up 9 in Texas MORE (R-Wis.) at 5:30 p.m. in search of an elusive deal that bolsters immigration enforcement and props up the DACA program, which President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I don't trust everybody in the White House' JPMorgan CEO withdraws from Saudi conference Trump defends family separations at border MORE wants to wind down.

Those talks spilled onto the House floor at Tuesday’s evening votes, where Meadows and other Freedom Caucus leaders gathered along the center aisle of the House floor to discuss their next steps. Soon, Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyMcCarthy brother-in-law under scrutiny for earning federal contracts based on Native American identity claim McCarthy introduces bill to fully fund Trump's border wall On The Money: McCarthy offers bill to fully fund Trump border wall | US to press China on currency in trade talks | Mnuchin plans to go ahead with Saudi trip | How America's urban-rural divide is changing the Dems MORE (R-Calif.) joined the huddle.

McCarthy said he was hopeful a deal could be reached late Tuesday. But he also noted that even if the petition supporters get 218 signatures, there was still time to hammer out a deal in the ensuing days.

“If you have enough signatures on the discharge petition tonight, it still does not mean the discharge petition is going forward,” McCarthy told reporters.

The debate has highlighted the sharp divide within the Republican conference when it comes to immigration issues, particularly the question of how to approach the millions of people living in the country illegally.

Melanie Zanona and Juliegrace Brufke contributed.

Updated at 9:36 p.m.