House GOP leaders push immigration vote to next week

House GOP leaders push immigration vote to next week
© Greg Nash

House GOP leaders in a surprise move Thursday night pushed back a vote on a compromise immigration bill until next week, underscoring the difficulty they're facing in winning votes — and how the stakes have been raised by the crisis at the border.

The decision to delay the vote, which had already been postponed from Thursday to Friday, followed a two-hour conference meeting designed to brief members on the measure’s contents.

Lawmakers, many of them worried about backing a measure that conservatives have described as providing amnesty to some undocumented workers, had complained that they didn’t have enough time to read and digest the nearly 300-page bill rolled out late Tuesday night.

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Lawmakers leaving the meeting said the bill will need to be changed even more if it is to have any hope of winning passage.

“We're going to keep working — there are good ideas being discussed. We're trying to see if we can come to a consensus,” Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseScalise blasts Democratic legislation on gun reforms Liz Cheney calls for 'proportional military response' against Iran On The Money: Senate panel scraps vote on key spending bill amid standoff | Democrats threaten to vote against defense bill over wall funding | Trump set to meet with aides about reducing capital gains taxes MORE (R-La.) told reporters. “So there are still complicated issues we're working through, but we're going to keep trying.”

Republicans face pressure to get something done because of the week-long crisis caused by the White House’s “zero tolerance” policy on the border, which resulted in roughly 2,000 children being separated from their parents.

Trump signed an executive order Thursday to prevent the separations, but he and GOP lawmakers say legislation is needed to permanently solve the issue.

Democrats opposed to both of the House bills have repeatedly noted that the family separations, at least, were just the result of the administration’s decisions.

The House bill would provide a pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and earmark $25 billion for Trump's border wall and other security measures. It would also make changes to two legal immigration programs.

Earlier on Thursday, the House in a 193-231 vote rejected a more hard-line immigration measure from Judiciary 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.). That bill contains tougher enforcement measures and does not provide citizenship for Dreamers, though it does give them a temporary, renewable legal status.

It’s unclear whether another weekend will win over enough supporters to the bill to get it through the House.

In the Senate, lawmakers are working on more slimmed-down measures that would provide more resources for detention centers in the border, and add judges to process people more quickly.

In the House, some lawmakers are pushing to include language that would reform the agricultural guest worker program and require employers to use an electronic verification system to ensure workers are legal.

Rep. Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresHere are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Trump calls on House Republicans to let committee chairs stay on the job longer Wave of GOP retirements threatens 2020 comeback MORE (R-Texas) suggested that those changes would in fact be included, but Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloPelosi: GOP retirements indicate they'll be in the minority, with Democrat in the White House The Hill's Morning Report - Congress returns: What to expect Wave of GOP retirements threatens 2020 comeback MORE (R-Fla.) cautioned that the tweaks were far from finalized.

“I think there is going to be a discussion on [e-verify]," Curbelo said, adding “he'll have to see” before deciding whether he’ll support the change.

Trump and GOP leadership launched an all-out whip effort this week to get lawmakers on board with the compromise plan. Leaders have been racing to diffuse a revolt from moderates who were demanding action on immigration - a controversial issue that has divided the GOP for months during a critical midterm election year.

But some conservative lawmakers said they needed to hear more from the president, even though Trump rallied support for the two immigration bills during a visit to the Capitol this week and tweeted Thursday about the “good immigration bills” taken up by the House.

GOP Rep. Robert AderholtRobert Brown AderholtHouse advances B agriculture bill Dems advance bill defying Trump State Department cuts Maryland raises legal tobacco purchasing age to 21 MORE of Alabama, a state where Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric resonated during the 2016 campaign, said he and other Republicans would like to hear whether Trump believes the compromise is an amnesty bill, as some groups on the right have said.

“I think there’s a lot of mixed signals out there, exactly how strongly the president is for the bill,” said Aderholt, who voted for the Goodlatte bill and is undecided on the compromise bill.

“Some people still want to label it an amnesty bill and so I think we need some clarification on that: What is amnesty and what is defined as amnesty? In this business, it’s not what is reality, it’s what’s the perception. If it’s not as amnesty bill, we need to know that as well,” Aderholt continued.

“I think it would be helpful if [the clarification] came from the president. Is he saying this is amnesty but it’s the best we can get? Or is he saying this is something I really want, the best bill?” Aderholt added. “Right now, there are a lot of members wanting to know how the president feels about it.”

Some conservatives predicted that the compromise bill would get less votes than the Goodlatte measure, which would be an embarrassing defeat for GOP leaders who have insisted for months that there was no path forward on the Goodlatte bill. The measure garnered 193 votes, which is more than expected.

That could be another factor driving leadership’s push to win over as many lawmakers as they can on the compromise bill.

“I suspect this second bill may have less support than the first,” said one GOP lawmaker. “But I think we’re closer to solving this than everyone thinks.”

“I believe it would be worth the wait,” the lawmaker added.

Scott Wong and Rafael Bernal contributed to this story