Trump, GOP launch full-court press on compromise immigration measure

Trump, GOP launch full-court press on compromise immigration measure
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report Trump attacks 'the Squad' as 'racist group of troublemakers' MORE and House GOP leaders have launched a full-court press to build support for their compromise immigration bill ahead of Thursday’s critical vote.

A handful of on-the-fence Republicans — including Reps. Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemTrump: If I say I should be on Mt. Rushmore, 'I will end up with such bad publicity' Transportation Department seeks to crack down on pipeline protests: report Trump touts 'BIG FIREWORKS' returning to Mt. Rushmore for July 4 MORE (S.D.), Frank LucasFrank Dean LucasHillicon Valley: Doctors press tech to crack down on anti-vax content | Facebook, Instagram suffer widespread outages | Spotify hits Apple with antitrust complaint | FCC rejects calls to delay 5G auction Overnight Energy: Solar installations dropped in 2018 | UN report says rising Arctic temperatures 'locked in' | Fiat Chrysler to recall 850K vehicles House technology committee leaders ask to postpone 5G spectrum auction MORE (Okla.) and George HoldingGeorge Edward Bell HoldingDelay of new trade deal harms America's digital advantage Republicans troll Democrats with proposals to rename upcoming health care bill GOP lawmaker calls for investigation into alleged 'anti-Israeli bias' at Duke-UNC conference MORE (N.C.) — were hauled to the White House on Wednesday so Trump could personally sell them on the immigration package.

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage House gears up for Mueller testimony Trump's no racist — he's an equal opportunity offender MORE made the trek to Capitol Hill, where he urged members of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) to back two competing immigration bills that are set to come to the House floor on Thursday.

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And hours later, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump quietly rolled back programs to detect, combat weapons of mass destruction: report Trump's family separation policy has taken US to 'lowest depth possible,' says former immigration lawyer Four heated moments from House hearing on conditions at border facilities MORE made her pitch to skeptical Republicans. 

Trump also made the surprise decision to sign an executive order ending the separation of minors from their parents at the southern border, which had stoked controversy and raised the stakes for Thursday’s votes.

It was perhaps the first time Trump had completely reversed course on such an issue, and underlined the tremendous blowback the White House faced over the unpopular policy.

The family separation issue has created a political and public relations crisis for the Trump administration and Republicans in the middle of a key midterm election year.

“Trump and Republicans are getting their asses kicked” over this issue, one conservative GOP lawmaker told The Hill.

Trump’s move to unilaterally end the crisis could solve the most pressing immigration quandary for congressional Republicans, but the House GOP would still have no clear solution to protect “Dreamers” who came to the United States illegally as children and face possible deportation after Trump rescinded an Obama-era program that allows them to work and live in the country.

The all-out whipping effort highlighted the urgency facing Republicans on Capitol Hill.

But it was clear Wednesday evening that Republican leaders were struggling to lock down the necessary 218 votes for the compromise bill. The package would halt the practice of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border, provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers and earmark $25 billion for Trump’s border wall and other security measures.

Many conservatives are balking at the bill ahead of Thursday’s vote, fearful they’ll be attacked from the right if they back it. Conservative groups, including NumbersUSA and Heritage Action, are deriding the compromise bill as “amnesty” for providing a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million Dreamers.

Meanwhile, Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsLawmakers request documents on DC councilman ethics investigation House Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, threatened to derail the compromise bill, arguing with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Trump fans the flames of white grievance Ex-White House spokesman Raj Shah joins Fox Corporation as senior vice president Trump quietly rolled back programs to detect, combat weapons of mass destruction: report MORE (R-Wis.) on the floor that the final package left out several provisions that had been agreed to during earlier negotiations.

“The compromise bill’s not ready for prime time,” a furious Meadows told reporters.

If the measure goes down in flames, leadership will be left without a clear legislative fix to prevent immigrant families from being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We don’t really have, in my opinion, a Plan B,” said Rep. Markwayne MullinMarkwayne MullinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate Inslee presses Trump on climate change in House testimony GOP lawmaker draws backlash for telling Democratic colleague to 'shut up' during heated ObamaCare debate MORE (R-Okla.). 

Pressure to take action on the Dreamer issue had led to a revolt by vulnerable GOP centrists earlier this year.

With the vote count in doubt, leadership kicked their whip operation into high gear on Wednesday as they worked to sell wavering members on the compromise plan.

Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseThe Memo: Fears of violence grow amid Trump race storm Democrats call for increased security after 'send her back' chants Democratic strategist on Trump tweets: 'He's feeding this fear and hate' MORE (R-La.) handed Trump a list of undecided members and asked if the president could help get them to “yes.” Those members received emails and text messages from the White House, then boarded vans for a meeting with Trump on Wednesday afternoon. Ryan and other leaders joined the meeting as well.

“We’re working to get members to yes,” Scalise told The Hill as he left the Capitol for the White House.

The administration also dispatched Sessions to Capitol Hill to convince RSC members to back the plan during their weekly Wednesday lunch. But his performance earned mixed reviews.

One RSC member described Sessions’s message on immigration as “wishy-washy,” while another said the attorney general struggled to explain the president’s position.

“I think that’s the president’s position … I could be wrong,” Sessions reportedly said, according to the second lawmaker.

However, Rep. Dennis RossDennis Alan RossThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Will Iran 'break out' for a nuclear weapon, and what can Trump do? Israeli minister said intermarriage among American Jews is 'like a second Holocaust': report MORE (R-Fla.), a senior deputy whip, said Sessions’s message was clear.

“He said he supports both bills and he hoped that we would too,” Ross told reporters as he left the meeting. “To do nothing is a grave injustice to everyone, including those separated families.”

Afterward, RSC Chairman Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerDemocrats should rise above and unify against Trump's tweets The Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants GOP rattled by Trump rally MORE (R-N.C.) floated the idea of voting on the other bill, a more conservative measure crafted by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteImmigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute MORE (R-Va.), Thursday but delaying a vote on the compromise measure to buy leadership more time to whip support.

“Some of the members said, ‘Listen, we’re undecided … we need potentially more time to process this,' ” Walker told reporters. “I may run it past the leadership.”

Conservatives were still pushing for last-minute changes to the compromise bill, including language that would prevent Dreamers from being able to apply for green cards for their parents after they become citizens. 

When pressed on whether the legislation could be tweaked before the vote, Goodlatte said “there’s lots of discussions going on.” 

“I can’t really say what would happen, but it’s certainly possible other things could happen,” Goodlatte said. “But we’re not there yet.”