Trump immigration comments spark chaos in GOP
House GOP leaders have put a compromise immigration bill on ice after President Trump said Friday he “certainly” would not sign the legislation.
Trump’s comments have thrown into doubt whether House Republicans will even take up the thorny issue of immigration this crucial election year. Immigration votes had been planned for next week.
Republican leaders at the last-minute scrapped a planned Friday whip check on the compromise bill. Instead, they will try to gauge support for the bill next week after they get clarification about what exactly Trump meant in his Friday interview on Fox News, Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) told reporters.
McHenry cautioned that House Republicans won’t “take on” immigration unless they have Trump’s backing.
“We want to get clarity on the president’s position on this bill,” McHenry said just off the House floor. “Republicans are not going to take on immigration without the support and endorsement of President Trump.”
Even if leadership pushes ahead with the vote, one key lawmaker questioned whether Thursday is still a realistic timetable.
“In light of everything, I think it’s fair to ask the question: Is next Thursday premature on these two votes?” said Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC).
Trump later tweeted a list of priorities that are already included in the compromise immigration bill.
The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda. Any Immigration Bill MUST HAVE full funding for the Wall, end Catch & Release, Visa Lottery and Chain, and go to Merit Based Immigration. Go for it! WIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2018
Trump’s impromptu remarks threw a wrench into GOP leadership’s immigration plans.
Republican leaders, who were desperate to stave off a discharge petition from centrists that would force a free-wheeling immigration debate on the House floor, reached an agreement to hold two votes next week on a pair of immigration bills, including the compromise measure and a more hard-line bill from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) earlier in the week said that Trump was “excited” about the compromise bill, while White House senior adviser Stephen Miller had met with conservatives on Capitol Hill to rally support for the immigration framework.
But several top House conservatives declared the 293-page compromise bill “dead on arrival” following Trump’s comments Friday.
Trump’s remarks were a “relief,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), an immigration hard-liner who predicted that votes on both immigration bills would fail next week.
Asked if Republicans could pass an immigration bill without Trump’s support, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, tersely replied: “No.”
The compromise immigration bill is “on life support,” added Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), an RSC member who opposes that legislation.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said they were expecting the White House to put out a statement “any minute” clarifying Trump’s comments.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who is facing a tough reelection bid in a district that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won by nearly 20 points in 2016, added, “This is going to be a cliffhanger.”
The compromise measure sticks to the four main pillars demanded by Trump: It creates a new merit-based visa program for so-called Dreamers, provides $25 billion for border security, ends the diversity visa lottery program and limits family-based migration.
The legislation goes even further by including a trigger mechanism to halt the new visas if Congress denies funding for the border wall, ending the separation of immigrant children and parents at the border, and ending “catch and release” immigration loopholes.
Centrist Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), one of the key negotiators, said the compromise bill is the last, best chance for any immigration and border security proposal to become law this year.
“It’s the only shot at [the wall] and it’s the only shot, I believe … to legalize the Dreamers, stop the deportation of the Dreamers, and to have a permanent fix for them,” said Diaz-Balart.
This isn’t the first time that Trump has scuttled GOP leadership’s plans by announcing last-minute opposition to a bill.
Hours before the House was scheduled to vote on controversial legislation renewing the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program in January, Trump tweeted that the program was used to “badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign.”
Capitol Hill was instantly thrown into confusion ahead of what was already expected to be a tight vote before Trump walked back his comments in a separate tweet.
Rafael Bernal and Juliegrace Brufke contributed.
Updated at 1:19 p.m.
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