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Immigration fight gets lonely for some in GOP

Immigration fight gets lonely for some in GOP
© Greg Nash

House Republicans who favor a bipartisan replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are increasingly at odds with their leadership, as the party digs in for a difficult midterm election. 

Rep. Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamPoll: Dems lead in 5 critical California House seats Dems announce third-quarter fundraising bonanza Election Countdown: Dems raising millions in fight for House | Trump attacks potential challengers | GOP finalizes 2020 convention plans | Dems see Kavanaugh fight driving women voters to the polls | Bloomberg spending big for Senate Dems MORE (R-Calif.) has rounded up 45 votes — and is expecting more in the coming week — on a resolution that would put four separate immigration bills up for a House vote in a process known as "Queen of the Hill."

Under Queen of the Hill, several proposals on the same issue are voted on, and the bill with the most votes is adopted, so long as it wins a majority of the House.

Denham's resolution would allow the House to pick between a conservative, Republican-only immigration bill proposed by Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteHouse Judiciary chairman threatens to subpoena Rosenstein Fusion GPS co-founder will invoke 'constitutional rights not to testify': lawyers House GOP sets deposition deadline for Fusion GPS co-founder MORE (R-Va.); the DREAM Act, a nominally bipartisan albeit liberal proposal that would protect millions of so-called Dreamers from deportation; the USA Act, a bipartisan proposal that would exchange Dreamer protections for border security provisions; and a bill of Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanElection Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight Paul Ryan to campaign for 25 vulnerable House Republicans GOP super PAC pushes back on report it skipped ad buys for California's Rohrabacher, Walters MORE's (R-Wis.) choosing.

The opening to Ryan was explicitly meant to smooth the path for the Speaker take action, Denham told The Hill. 

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"We wanted to make sure that we left it so we were not tying the Speaker's hands, but we were making sure that we were addressing a full vote in front of the House," he said Wednesday. 

But Ryan said Thursday that Denham's plan "is not the right way to go." 

"I don't want to bring legislation that won't get signed into law. I don't think it makes any sense to bring a bill through or a process through that would produce a bill that will get a presidential veto," Ryan told reporters.

That's irked vulnerable members in districts with large Hispanic populations, but also in swing districts, as a DACA solution has polled favorably both among Latinos and moderate voters.

"I don't know how Denham's plan could get vetoed by the president. It's a rule. What if the product of that process is something the president supports? That's incoherent," said Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloDems see blue 'tsunami' in House as Senate path narrows GOP spokeswoman says Republicans will lose House seats in midterms Cook Political Report shifts 7 more races towards Dems MORE (R-Fla.) a top target for Democrats.

Curbelo added Ryan could use his slot in Denham's proposal to propose a bill that would satisfy President TrumpDonald John TrumpKey takeaways from the Arizona Senate debate Major Hollywood talent firm considering rejecting Saudi investment money: report Mattis says he thought 'nothing at all' about Trump saying he may leave administration MORE's requirements on immigration and have a shot at winning Queen of the Hill. 

"What we have called on him to do is to bring a proposal that's similar to what the White House has proposed to the floor. And obviously the president would sign that," he said.

But Trump has rejected multiple immigration proposals, insisting that any DACA bill also cut legal immigration, a non-starter for Democrats and some Republicans.

And it's unlikely any immigration bill that could clear the House without Democratic votes would then be able to pass the Senate.

That's left Ryan, who's retiring at the end of this term, little choice but to throw his weight behind the party's right wing on immigration.

"This is a midterm election. Obviously the Republicans are in trouble in mostly suburban districts where the Democrats are trying to use immigration as an issue," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican political analyst. 

"On the campaign trail, they’re going to err more toward the President Trump side," he added. 

That leaves immigration moderates in swing districts, like Denham and Curbelo, isolated from their party. 

Still, that doesn't mean Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyDemocrats in swing districts advised to avoid talking about immigration The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump travels to hurricane-ravaged Florida, Georgia McCarthy brother-in-law under scrutiny for earning federal contracts based on Native American identity claim MORE (R-Calif.) — whom Ryan endorsed as his successor Friday — are abandoning those districts. 

"I don’t think they’re leaving them for dead. What they’re telling them is you can do anything you need to do to win," O'Connell said.

"The best you can hope for is to equip them with as much money as they need to fight this race on their own terms," he added. 

Many of those races are expected to be very expensive.

Curbelo's 2016 race cost nearly $20 million, putting it in the top 10 most expensive House races in the country, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

This year, Curbelo is again a top target for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which has recruited a strong opponent in Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a consultant who's drawn in national-grade endorsements including former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenElection Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight Obama to speak at campaign rally for Nevada Dems Affordable housing set for spotlight of next presidential campaign MORE.

In districts like Curbelo's, where Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCarter Page files defamation lawsuit against DNC Dems fear party is headed to gutter from Avenatti’s sledgehammer approach Election Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight MORE beat Trump by 16 points, Republican incumbents are expected to play defense, but the DCCC is using Trump's unpopularity to expand the field beyond its traditional targets.

"They’re trying to spread it out to force the Republicans not to keep their eye on the ball," said O'Connell. 

Still, both Republicans and Democrats in heavily Hispanic districts need to keep immigration in the headlines, despite overwhelming odds against serious congressional consideration, let alone passage, of any bill on the issue.

Denham is working with Rep. Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarHispanic Dems want answers on detention of immigrant minors Aguilar launches bid for Democratic leadership position Koch group launches digital ads in tight Texas House race MORE (D-Calif.) to show bipartisan support for his Queen of The Hill proposal.

"What I've found is they're a committed group of Republicans who really want to solve this issue in a fair way with a path to citizenship, and I'll work with anyone that meets that goal, and thankfully there are quite a few," said Aguilar, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Whip. 

With Denham's 45-and-counting set of co-sponsors and likely unanimous support from Democrats, the proposal easily surpasses the 218-vote threshold to pass the House, but it still depends on leadership to bring it to the floor, an unlikely proposition.

But if those co-sponsors also support what's known as a discharge petition, the committee process and leadership could be bypassed, bringing legislation straight to the floor. 

Floor discharge petitions are rarely successful, and they're seen as a slap in the face to leadership.

Some supporters of the Denham proposal have hinted that, given further inaction on immigration, they'll support discharge. 

Others have been more explicit. 

Asked what would happen if leadership buried the Denham rule, Curbelo said, "it may mean that we have to force the issue." 

"I'm ready," he added.