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 TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day 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 NoemSouth Dakota governor doubles down on 'meth, we're on it' anti-drug campaign South Dakota drops pipeline protest laws after lawsuit New South Dakota law requiring 'In God We Trust' sign to hang in public schools goes into effect MORE (S.D.), Frank LucasFrank Dean LucasHillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Bipartisan bill to secure election tech advances to House floor Hillicon 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 MORE (Okla.) and George HoldingGeorge Edward Bell HoldingNorth Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting Democrats likely to gain seats under new North Carolina maps Education Dept. orders UNC to adjust policies after anti-Semitism complaint 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 SessionsLisa Page sues DOJ, FBI over alleged privacy violations Sessions leads GOP Senate primary field in Alabama, internal poll shows Trump rebukes FBI chief Wray over inspector general's Russia inquiry 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 puts Kushner in charge of overseeing border wall construction: report Hillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Minority lawmakers call out Google for hiring former Trump DHS official 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 MeadowsThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by UANI — Sparks fly as House Judiciary debates impeachment articles Democrats object to Meadows passing note to Jordan from dais Meadows says he's advocating for Trump to add Alan Dershowitz to impeachment defense team MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, threatened to derail the compromise bill, arguing with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House panel debates articles of impeachment House Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea 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 MullinLawmakers beat Capitol Police in Congressional Football Game Democrats hold first hearing in push for clean energy by 2050 Overnight Energy: House moves to block Trump drilling | House GOP rolls out proposal to counter offshore drilling ban | calls mount for NOAA probe 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 ScaliseFox's Chris Wallace calls out Trump for the 'most sustained assault on freedom of the press' in US history McCarthy: I don't think there's a need to whip the impeachment vote GOP calls for minority hearing on impeachment, threatens procedural measures 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 Better Medicare Alliance - Trump has had a rough October Trump's aversion to alliances is making the world a more dangerous place Wave of GOP retirements threatens 2020 comeback 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 WalkerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting NC rep explores Tillis primary challenge 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 GoodlatteUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview 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.”