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 TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit 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 touts 'BIG FIREWORKS' returning to Mt. Rushmore for July 4 American Indian tribe bans GOP governor from reservation over opposition to Keystone protestors New governors chart ambitious paths in first 100 days 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 HoldingRepublicans troll Democrats with proposals to rename upcoming health care bill GOP lawmaker calls for investigation into alleged 'anti-Israeli bias' at Duke-UNC conference Renee Ellmers announces bid for North Carolina lieutenant governor 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 SessionsFive takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe Amash: Some of Trump's actions 'were inherently corrupt' 'Persuadable' voters are key to the 2020 election — and the non-screaming news industry 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 NielsenCongressional Hispanic Caucus demands answers on death of migrant children Trump expected to tap Cuccinelli for new immigration post Kobach gave list of demands to White House for 'immigration czar' job: report 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 MeadowsFive takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe Trump declassification move unnerves Democrats Conservative blocks House passage of disaster relief bill MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, threatened to derail the compromise bill, arguing with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash storm hits Capitol Hill Debate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 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 ScaliseSenate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump Amash storm hits Capitol Hill Trump hits Amash after congressman doubles down on impeachment talk 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 RossEx-GOP lawmaker joins family firm  Ex-GOP lawmaker joins Florida lobbying firm Incoming GOP lawmaker says he may have violated campaign finance law 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 Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan NCAA to consider allowing student athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline 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 GoodlatteTop Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling 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.”