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 TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district 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 denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Thousands of bikers pour into South Dakota for motorcycle rally Governors' approval ratings drop as COVID-19 cases mount MORE (S.D.), Frank LucasFrank Dean LucasThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what 'policing' means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting Lawmakers ask for briefings on Chinese targeting of coronavirus research MORE (Okla.) and George HoldingGeorge Edward Bell HoldingThe 14 other key races to watch on Super Tuesday GOP leaders encourage retiring lawmakers to give up committee posts House GOP vows to use impeachment to cut into Democratic majority 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 SessionsKamala Harris: The right choice at the right time Three pros and three cons to Biden picking Harris The 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence 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's acting ICE chief to leave post Trump's fight with city leaders escalates Neo-Nazi pleads guilty to 'swatting' Black church, Cabinet official, journalists 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 MeadowsOn The Money: McConnell says it's time to restart coronavirus talks | New report finds majority of Americans support merger moratorium | Corporate bankruptcies on pace for 10-year high McConnell: Time to restart coronavirus talks Lawmakers of color urge Democratic leadership to protect underserved communities in coronavirus talks MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, threatened to derail the compromise bill, arguing with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump slams 'rogue' Sasse after criticism of executive actions Wary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker Budowsky: Why I back Kennedy, praise Markey 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 MullinGeorgia strengthens democracy, moves closer to NATO with US support Five takeaways from PPP loan data Lawmaker-linked businesses received PPP loans 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 ScaliseScott Fitzgerald wins Wisconsin GOP primary to replace Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner GOP leaders go into attack mode against Harris QAnon supporter in Georgia heads into tight GOP runoff 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 RossIsraelis and Palestinians must realize that each needs to give, not just take Court opens door to annexing the West Bank — and the consequences could be disastrous The problem with Trump's Middle East peace plan 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 WalkerJerry Falwell Jr. placed on indefinite leave GOP congressman calls for Falwell's resignation Pence confidant helps 24-year-old beat Trump-backed candidate 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 GoodlattePress: Trump's final presidential pardon: himself USCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids 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.”