Trump surprise rattles GOP in final stretch

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE’s plan to end birthright citizenship has tossed a grenade into the final stretch of the midterm elections, roiling centrist Republicans and further endangering a House majority already at risk of slipping away.

While Trump’s proposal could boost Senate GOP candidates and earned applause from allies such as Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Report on alleged surveillance abuse in 2016 to be released Dec. 9 McConnell hopes Senate impeachment trial 'not too lengthy a process' Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack MORE (R-S.C.), others worry it could hurt the party’s chances in key suburban swing districts — critical territory to retaining the House.

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Trump’s call to change the Constitution via executive order also struck a discordant note with a GOP conference that filed court briefs in a lawsuit against former President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. 

“Well, you obviously cannot do that. You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order,” Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanIs Joe Biden finished? Krystal Ball previews fifth Democratic debate Former Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled MORE (R-Wis.) told Lexington, Ky., radio station WVLK. “We didn’t like it when Obama tried changing immigration laws via executive action, and obviously as conservatives, we believe in the Constitution.”

Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloRepublicans can't exploit the left's climate extremism without a better idea Progressive Latino group launches first incumbent protection campaign The Memo: Bad polls for Trump shake GOP MORE (R-Fla.), who supported immigration reform efforts this summer and is locked in a tough reelection battle in his Miami-area district, blasted Trump over the proposed move.

“Birthright citizenship is protected by the Constitution, so no @realDonaldTrump you can’t end it by executive order,” Curbelo tweeted. “What we really need is broad immigration reform that makes our country more secure and reaffirms our wonderful tradition as a nation of immigrants.”

Trump’s vow seemed aimed at stoking his base, but the reaction from Republicans indicated they are increasingly worried about how the fight to retain their House majority is going.

Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockLive coverage: House holds third day of public impeachment hearings Gun debate raises stakes in battle for Virginia legislature Progressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats MORE (Va.), one of the most vulnerable GOP lawmakers, panned Trump’s plan while skirting direct criticism of Trump. Her race is now considered “lean Democratic” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, and a Democratic-aligned PAC canceled its remaining $800,000 in scheduled TV ads in a sign of growing confidence.

It’s possible Trump’s proposal could help GOP Senate candidates in states such as North Dakota and Montana, where Republicans are trying to gain seats. But it could be detrimental to other Senate GOP candidates such as Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE in Nevada or Gov. Rick Scott in Florida. 

Scott, who is in a tight race with Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonBottom Line Bottom Line Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity MORE (D-Fla.), didn’t answer a question about the issue at a news conference Tuesday. His office later sent out a statement saying he needed to fully review the proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Fireworks on health care expected at Dem debate | Trump FDA pick dodges on vaping ban | Trump to host meeting on youth vaping Friday | AMA calls for immediate vaping ban GOP senator blocks vote on House-passed Violence Against Women Act On The Money: Senate scraps plan to force second shutdown vote | Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny | McConnell rips House Dems for holding up trade deal MORE (R-Ky.) was silent about the issue Tuesday. 

Trump’s proposal is just the latest escalation of his hard-line immigration rhetoric, which has ramped up in the final weeks before Election Day. 

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The president said in an interview with Axios that he planned to have an executive order drafted that would terminate birthright citizenship for babies of noncitizens who are born on U.S. soil. The president said he already ran the idea by his legal counsel and that “it will happen,” though he did not offer a timeline.

“It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t,” Trump told Axios. 

Some House Republicans accused Trump of hurting his own party with the remarks.

“We all know challenges of suburban R’s,” tweeted retiring Rep. Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloFormer GOP Rep. Costello launches lobbying shop Head of Pennsylvania GOP resigns over alleged explicit texts Lobbying world MORE (R-Pa.). “So now POTUS, out of nowhere, brings birthright citizenship up. Besides being basic tenet of America, it’s political malpractice.” 

Trump is barnstorming the country in the final week before the election, but his schedule suggests a focus on the Senate, with stops in Florida, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee and Indiana.

House Republicans fighting to limit their losses are sure to see candidates confronted with questions about their positions on Trump’s birthright citizenship plan, putting centrists in a tough position.

“I believe in the Constitution and don’t think this works,” Rep. Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedHillicon Valley: Critics press feds to block Google, Fitbit deal | Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-linked accounts | TikTok looks to join online anti-terrorism effort | Apple pledges .5B to affordable housing Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-affiliated accounts after lawmaker pressure Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg would support delaying Libra | More attorneys general join Facebook probe | Defense chief recuses from 'war cloud' contract | Senate GOP blocks two election security bills | FTC brings case against 'stalking' app developer MORE (R-N.Y.), co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said in a statement gently pushing back at Trump. 

“What we need to do is fix the broken border through a wall and technology,” said Reed, whose race is rated as “likely Republican.” 

“At the same time, I appreciate the president trying to solve the problem, but believe the best way is to take action in Congress to secure the border and then leave it to the people on this through a constitutional amendment to address the birthright concern,” he said.

Reed was one of 23 Republicans who signed a discharge petition that would have forced floor action on a series of immigration bills this summer if it had enough signatures. 

The effort was led by centrist Republicans like Curbelo who were worried about their reelection chances, especially after Trump rescinded an Obama-era program protecting immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.

Endangered Rep. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveFormer GOP lawmaker: Trump's tweets have to stop Congressional Women's Softball team releases roster The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority MORE (R-Utah), the daughter of Haitian immigrants and one of the discharge petition signers, pushed back against Trump’s proposed executive order.

“I have always opposed Presidential attempts to change immigration law unilaterally,” Love said in a statement. “The Constitution gives Congress, not the President, the power to ‘establish a uniform rule of naturalization’ and the 14th Amendment makes the conditions of citizenship clear: individuals born in this country are citizens. The Executive cannot unilaterally change those facts.”

Another petition backer, Rep. Mario Diaz-BalartMario Rafael Diaz-BalartHouse passes stopgap as spending talks stall Bipartisan group reveals agricultural worker immigration bill GOP lawmakers offer new election security measure MORE (R-Fla.), also came out against the plan.

“I strongly disagree with the proposed executive order. As a Member of Congress, I take an oath to support the United States Constitution,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement.

Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseChris Wallace: Trump testifying 'would be akin to Prince Andrew testifying about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein' Fox's Neil Cavuto rips into Trump over attacks on Chris Wallace's impeachment coverage This week: Round 2 of House impeachment inquiry hearings MORE (R-La.), who is aiming to move up the leadership ladder, expressed openness to the proposal and praised the president for his effort, though he did not weigh in on whether he thinks the plan is constitutional. 

“I’m glad that the president is pursuing all the options that are available to him,” Scalise told Fox News. “I’d like to see us, again, get back to rule of law.”

But top conservatives, including Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsMichelle Obama presents Lin-Manuel Miranda with National Portrait Award Sondland testimony looms over impeachment hearings this week Democrats seize on new evidence in first public impeachment hearing MORE (R-N.C.) and former chairman Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanWill Republicans continue to engage in willful blindness? How Democrats can avoid fatal flaws of their impeachment inquiry Live coverage: Schiff closes with speech highlighting claims of Trump's corruption MORE (R-Ohio), who is running for Speaker, did not weigh in.

In the Senate, Trump’s proposal appeared to receive a warmer reception from some members.

Graham enthusiastically embraced the idea and quickly announced his own plans to introduce similar legislation.

“Finally, a president willing to take on this absurd policy of birthright citizenship,” Graham said in a string of tweets. “I’ve always supported comprehensive immigration reform — and at the same time — the elimination of birthright citizenship.”

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzLawmakers spar over surveillance flight treaty with Russia Senators voice support for Iran protesters but stop short of taking action Prisons chief: FBI investigating whether 'criminal enterprise' played role in Epstein death MORE (R-Texas), who is facing a surprisingly competitive challenge from Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), also voiced support for eliminating birthright citizenship.

Cruz told The Dallas Morning News that birthright citizenship encourages people to break the law. 

“Indeed, there’s a practice known as birth tourism, where women who are in their eighth or ninth month of pregnancy come to America on a tourist visa specifically to give birth in the United States,” he said.

Jordain Carney and Scott Wong contributed.