Trump surprise rattles GOP in final stretch

President TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign 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 GrahamSenator-jurors who may not be impartial? Remove them for cause Broad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa What to watch for as Senate organizes impeachment on day one 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 RyanWarren now also knocking Biden on Social Security Biden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record 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 HellerLobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play This week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report MORE in Nevada or Gov. Rick Scott in Florida. 

Scott, who is in a tight race with Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe most expensive congressional races of the last decade Lobbying world Bottom Line 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 McConnellTrump admin releases trove of documents on Ukrainian military aid The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions What to watch for on Day 2 of Senate impeachment trial 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. ReedTrump's Dingell insults disrupt GOP unity amid impeachment House votes to temporarily repeal Trump SALT deduction cap Trump shocks, earns GOP rebukes with Dingell remarks 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) LoveThe biggest political upsets of the decade Former GOP lawmaker: Trump's tweets have to stop Congressional Women's Softball team releases roster 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-BalartOn The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA House passes bill that would give legal status to thousands of undocumented farmworkers House passes stopgap as spending talks stall 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 ScaliseThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Cheney's decision not to run for Senate sparks Speaker chatter Trump welcomes LSU to the White House: 'Go Tigers' 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 MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules This week: Raucous rules fight, opening arguments in impeachment trial White House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team MORE (R-N.C.) and former chairman Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanCheney's decision not to run for Senate sparks Speaker chatter The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules This week: Raucous rules fight, opening arguments in impeachment trial 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 CruzWhat to watch for on Day 2 of Senate impeachment trial Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Cruz: White House not expected to push motion to dismiss impeachment articles 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.