Political News

House Republicans, Defying Leaders, Move to Force Immigration Votes

Posted May 9, 2018 7:30 p.m. EDT
Updated May 9, 2018 7:36 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — More than a dozen House Republicans defied Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday and moved to force a vote on immigration in the House, aiming to settle the uncertain futures of Dreamers, young immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as children.

The group is gathering signatures for a discharge petition, a parliamentary maneuver that could be used to circumvent Ryan by bringing legislation to the House floor with the support of a majority of members. The party out of power often uses such petitions, but they rarely succeed because a signature from a member of the party in power is seen as a betrayal of leadership.

This time around, 17 Republicans had signed as of Wednesday afternoon.

“We are well aware that the speaker’s preference was not to have this process,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., who introduced the petition Wednesday morning. “I’ve made the argument to the speaker personally that this process actually empowers him.”

If nine more Republicans sign on, along with all House Democrats, the group will be able to revive an immigration debate that had appeared all but dead. Its goal is to force debate on four immigration-related measures, including one of the speaker’s choosing.

Under a little-used rule known as Queen of the Hill, the measure that received the most votes would be adopted, and advance to the Senate, so long as a majority of the House voted in favor. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., the architect of the strategy, said such a rule could be brought up on the first and third Monday of every month. The next opportunity to do so, he said, would be June 11.

Ryan has repeatedly said that he is opposed to the strategy, contending that it might produce legislation that President Donald Trump would not sign. “We continue to work with our members to find a solution that can both pass the House and get the president’s signature,” his spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, said Wednesday.

But Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, a backer of the petition, argued that the White House should not govern how Congress acts. “This is about doing our job,” she said. “This is about making sure that we are not consolidating power in the White House.”

Curbelo, Love and the other supporters of the discharge petition belong to a group of moderate Republicans working to create a path to citizenship for young immigrants protected from deportation by an Obama-era initiative, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, that Trump moved to rescind last year.

About 700,000 young immigrants are covered by the program, known as DACA, and another 1.1 million are eligible but did not apply. When Trump suspended the program in September, he gave Congress six months — until March — to come up with a replacement. But that deadline came and went; the Senate spent a week debating immigration, but failed to pass a bill. Meantime, successive court decisions have kept the program operating.

The White House has demanded that whatever bill passes contain “four pillars”: a path to citizenship for Dreamers, funding for Trump’s proposed border wall, an end to a visa lottery system aimed at bringing in immigrants from underrepresented countries and sharp limits on family-based migration.

Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said Wednesday that the White House would “love to see a piece of legislation with all four of the pillars that the president outlined.”

For now, DACA continues. A federal judge ruled last month that the protections must stay in place and the government must start taking new applications. On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers say that has lessened the urgency to act. And some are reluctant to take up such a thorny issue so close to election time.

Whether the discharge petition will change that calculus is unclear. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, an immigration hard-liner, said the effort “re-energizes the focus on getting this done.” But he does not intend to sign the petition, he said, because he does not want to put bills he disagrees with on the floor.

The last successful discharge petition drive came in 2015 when Republicans and Democrats forced a vote to revive the Export-Import Bank, which guarantees loans to overseas customers buying American exports.

In 2002, the process forced a successful vote to pass the McCain-Feingold campaign finance overhaul.

Denham said he was “extremely confident” that the group would get enough signatures to move forward. If the Queen of the Hill strategy succeeds, the House would take up three immigration bills that are already in circulation, along with whatever measure the speaker decided to put forth. They range from liberal to hard-line.

The Dream Act — short for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors — which is backed by many Democrats, would offer legalization and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. The bipartisan USA Act — United and Securing America — would pair renewable work permits and a pathway to legal status with increased border security, and has the support of about 50 Democrats and Republicans.

The Securing America’s Future Act, also known as the Goodlatte bill, for its chief sponsor, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., is the most hard-line of the three. It would require employers to use an internet-based system, known as E-Verify, to confirm they are hiring only legal workers, crack down on sanctuary cities by denying them federal grants, allow for the detention of minors who are arrested at the border with their parents, and toughen sentences for criminals who have been deported and return illegally.

The measure would end the diversity visa lottery program, as Trump wants, and end family-based migration for all relatives other than spouses and minor children. It would offer three-year renewable work permits to DACA recipients, without offering them a path to citizenship.