GOP nears deal on list of demands for DACA

A vocal member of the House Freedom Caucus said Thursday that GOP leaders are close to cementing an immigration package that would couple new enforcement measures with protection for “Dreamers” — and win the support of conservatives in the process. 

Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) said the Republicans are eying a plan consisting of three components favored by conservatives: An effort to discourage chain migration; the creation of a mandatory e-verify system to deter hiring immigrants in the country illegally; and the elimination of the diversity visa program. 

{mosads}If those elements are included, Brat said, conservatives would support a fourth provision: protections for the people eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era initiative which President Trump dismantled in September.

“If we get those three, DACA could be a part of that,” Brat told reporters just outside the House chamber. “I’m open to that compromise, but it can’t be any weaker than that.”

Brat did not say if the Republicans’ DACA provision would allow for citizenship, as Democrats are insisting, or merely legalization, as many Republicans prefer. But he said “it’s all being discussed within leadership right now,” and said he spoke Wednesday night with Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, who’s been central to the GOP negotiations. 

“He’s in the center of that issue and reached a compromise. … It’s a good package,” Brat said, adding that conservatives come out ahead when the effects of all the components are added up.

“The numbers from those three pieces I just mentioned clearly outweigh the DACA — by a lot,” he said. “And so you’re just saying, ‘OK, we can deal with 700,000 here [in DACA] because we’re getting a reduction in millions here.’ ”

That formula is sure to be rejected by Democrats, setting up a likely showdown at the end of the year, when Congress has to come together to fund the government and prevent a shutdown — a process that will require Democratic buy-in.

McCaul declined to verify the details outlined by Brat — “I’ve been sworn to secrecy,” he said —but indicated that negotiators are nearing the end of their weeks-long talks in search of the DACA-fix Trump has requested.

“It’s going well, and I think we’re getting close to a product, and at that point we’ll go into listening sessions,” McCaul said.

Immigration reform has been a perennial headache for GOP leaders, cleaving the party between the conservative lawmakers urging mass deportations and more moderate members pushing various degrees of legalization for the estimated 12 million people living in the country illegally. 

Under President Obama, the Republicans’ solution was simply to avoid the issue at all costs. This year, they don’t have the same luxury. 

Trump, after scrapping DACA, quickly challenged Congress to provide protections for the roughly 700,000 people enrolled in the program, and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has said he’ll do just that. He has not said when or how.

Complicating the equation for GOP leaders, Ryan told the Freedom Caucus in 2015, before he took the gavel, that he would not bring immigration bills to the floor unless they have the support of a majority of House Republicans — a promise Freedom Caucus leaders have not forgotten.

Some moderate Republicans are urging passage of a “clean” Dream Act, which would provide protections both to DACA participants and many other qualified immigrants. They say the bill would pass easily — and win a majority of the majority — if Ryan would only bring it to the floor. 

“I predict it will have a vote with well over 300 votes to send this bill to the Senate,” Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) told reporters Thursday in the Capitol.  

Trump’s DACA repeal does not take full effect until March 5. But outraged Democrats, particularly those in the Hispanic Caucus, are insisting that Congress pass a fix by the end of the year. 

A group of 25 Democrats indicated Wednesday that they’ll oppose a year-end spending bill, and threaten a government shutdown, if the package excludes a “clean” Dream Act. The Democrats have had leverage in budget fights, because Ryan has typically been unable to rally 218 Republicans behind spending bills, and the Democrats think the coming battle will be no exception.

“If they can do it without us, more power to them,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said Wednesday.

Perhaps hoping to avoid any complications passing the spending package, McCaul said the Republicans’ are eying a stand-alone immigration bill.  

“I think the preference is not to have it attached to an omnibus,” he said. 

Yet the year’s legislative calendar is growing short, and the DACA debate is arriving as GOP leaders are scrambling to send a tax-reform package to the president’s desk by Christmas. Asked if the Republicans have time to pass a stand-alone immigration bill, McCaul laughed. 

“That’s a good question,” he said.

Brat, for his part, said it’s the substance of the immigration bill he’s interested in, and the vehicle is inconsequential. 

“If it’s fair, and if it’s a good, well-crafted, rational bill, it doesn’t matter,” Brat said. “I don’t care if it’s stand-alone, or in a bigger package, but trying to jam something through that’s not a winner, that’s going to be a headache.”

Tags DACA Dreamers Immigration Joe Barton Michael McCaul Paul Ryan

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