Political News

GOP Stifles Moderates, And Pleases President, With Immigration Bills

Posted June 13, 2018 8:12 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — Speaker Paul D. Ryan, seeking to unite his fractious conference around a compromise immigration bill, assured Republican lawmakers during a closed-door session on Wednesday that President Donald Trump is backing the effort, though passage of the measure next week remains very much in doubt.

Wednesday’s gathering came less than 12 hours after Ryan’s office announced that the House would consider immigration next week — but not bipartisan bills prompted by a desire to protect young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. Instead, lawmakers will consider a hard-line measure that emphasizes border security and the somewhat more moderate compromise measure, yet to be finalized, that still meets Trump’s standards.

Ryan’s voting plan and the unfinished compromise measure were products of weeks of tense negotiations between Republican conservatives, including hard-liners in the House Freedom Caucus, and a band of rebellious Republican moderates. But in the end, the moderates stumbled before the finish line. They had been gathering signatures for a so-called discharge petition that would have forced Ryan to bring two bipartisan bills to the floor, but the effort collapsed two signatures short of the number needed.

That Ryan sought Trump’s stamp of approval for his compromise bill highlighted the sense that the moderates had utterly failed.

“It’s not my ideal place to be,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, one of 23 Republicans who signed the petition. “My ideal option would be a bipartisan bill in the House. But it’s the cards that we were dealt, and I think we’re trying to make good use of these cards.”

The compromise bill will be built around four principles — Trump has called them the “four pillars” — that the president has insisted any immigration bill contain: a path to citizenship for the young unauthorized immigrants known as Dreamers; beefed-up border security, including $25 billion for the wall the president wants to build on the southwest border; an end to the current diversity visa lottery system, which is aimed at bringing in immigrants from underrepresented nations; and limits on family-based migration, known as chain migration.

Ryan told reporters that the “last thing I want to do is bring a bill out of here that I know the president won’t support.”

Democrats — who had seen a glimmer of hope in the moderates’ discharge petition — slammed the Ryan plan as a betrayal of bipartisan efforts to address the fate of the Dreamers.

All 193 Democrats had signed the discharge petition. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic whip, said he expects that he and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, will urge all Democrats to vote against both bills. Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, the chief Democratic sponsor of one of the bipartisan measures, said his Democratic colleagues would almost certainly heed their leaders’ call.

“We have no bill text, and we have votes assured next week,” Aguilar said in an interview. “To my colleagues, good luck, but they’re not going to be able to count on any Democrats to help them when they lock us out of the process at the 11th hour.”

Trump expressed his support for the Republican compromise measure in a telephone call with Ryan, according to Republican lawmakers and White House officials. Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, said the White House had input into the legislation, adding, “We were part of the back-and-forth with them.”

But White House officials said the president would be cautious about offering a full-throated endorsement of either of the measures that are slated for a vote next week. Trump does not relish the idea of leading the charge for a bill that might not pass, and his advisers have told him that House Republicans — even those who support the legislation itself — may be reluctant to vote for it if they believe it has no chance of passing the Senate.

The hard-line bill, known as the Goodlatte bill after its chief author, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, is highly unlikely to garner enough votes to pass the House. But the compromise bill also faces a highly questionable path because conservatives, having secured a vote on the Goodlatte bill, may have little incentive to vote for a more moderate measure that could be perceived as providing “amnesty” to Dreamers.

“We’re working to try to get a bill that will pass,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., a leader of moderates who have pushed for the House to vote on immigration. “I don’t think anyone’s in a position to make any guarantees on whether a bill will pass or not.”

Immigrant rights advocates accused the immigration moderates of caving to party pressure.

“It’s a show vote for the right-wingers and a show vote for the so-called moderates,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant rights group. “Neither will pass. They will not get Democratic support. It’s a sham. The heroic moderates who were going to fight for Dreamers turned out to be easily rolled by Ryan and the Freedom Caucus.” The votes next week will put the politically divisive issue of immigration front and center in the national debate in the middle of a difficult election year for Republicans. It comes nine months after Trump moved to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama-era initiative also known as DACA, which protected Dreamers from deportation.

After moving to end DACA in September, Trump called on Congress to pass legislation to replace it by March, but so far, lawmakers have been unable to do so. The Senate debated immigration for a week in February, and passed nothing.

Had the discharge petition succeeded, the House would have also voted on the Dream Act, a stand-alone bill backed by Democrats that would offer a path to citizenship for the Dreamers, as well as Aguilar’s measure, which would pair a path to citizenship with increased border security.

Several of the petition’s Republican signatories credited their effort with prompting House Republican leaders to put immigration — an issue they had been loath to address — on the legislative schedule.

“I think it is our signing the discharge petition that is in large measure responsible for the fact that this is going to be brought to the floor of the House,” said one of those who signed, Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J.

Curbelo insisted that moderates were not abandoning the petition drive, suggesting that it could be rekindled if necessary.

“It’s there if we need it,” he said, “and we may need it.”