Political News

Immigration reform bills: Both options headed for failure

Posted June 21, 2018 8:59 a.m. EDT

— The House will vote on two broad immigration proposals Thursday, but barring some major shift in momentum, both of those proposals are headed toward failure.

Despite an all-out blitz from the Trump administration -- including face-to-face entreaties from the President to skeptical House Republicans -- to lock in the votes, there is still significant work to do to get one across the finish line, according to multiple senior aides and lawmakers. That doesn't mean it can't happen, but the path forward wasn't clear as of Wednesday night.

"Closer to cooked than passage," was how one senior aide put it last night.

Bottom line: There will be a real-time, on-the-record display of President Donald Trump's lobbying power on the House floor in a few hours. Yes, it was late in the game, but the administration didn't hedge Wednesday. Amid the outrage and furor over the family separation policy -- and the subsequent effort to mitigate that, they went all in to try and get an immigration bill teetering on failure across the finish line.

By all accounts Republicans enter the day still short of the votes. Here's a simple frame of this day: Does the President have the juice to turn it around on his own?

What the House is actually voting on

This can be confusing, so here you go: The House on Thursday will vote on two bills that overhaul the US immigration system.

The first is a proposal long backed by conservatives that takes a hardline position on dealing with DACA, border security and cutting legal immigration. This is often short-handed as the Goodlatte bill, because of its author conservative Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia.

The second bill was negotiated by moderates, leadership and conservatives over the last few weeks. It provides $25 billion for the border wall and creates a pathway to citizenship for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program through visa cuts to other elements of legal immigration, including eliminating the diversity visa lottery and limiting family visas.

Leadership (and the administration) has been whipping the latter very hard over the last few days. They view it as the only bill that has a chance to pass. Yet hardline anti-immigration groups continue to oppose the GOP compromise measure -- and conservatives still aren't convinced the President is behind the bill.

Add moderates wary of the cuts to legal immigration the "compromise" measure includes, and voila -- there's your vote count problem.

So can the GOP compromise bill pass? Yes, it's possible. It just looks like a very, very heavy lift in a very, very short period of time.

Will leadership pull the bills if the votes are going to fail? Sounds like no, according to multiple aides. We'll see, but more than anything, the mood I've picked up from Republicans across the chamber is they just want to have the votes and move on, pass or fail.

Reality quote: A conservative House lawmaker, who hadn't decided whether he was going to vote for the "compromise" version of the bill, when asked why not given the President supports it: "Does he really though?"

Heated moment on the floor

So how are things really going? Well, one needed only to look to the well of the House floor a little before 4:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday afternoon. There, Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Mark Meadows were, in plain sight, in the midst of a very heated argument about the process and bills being considered. Meadows is, of course, the head of the Freedom Caucus, the group of conservatives that has long been the bane of leadership's existence and has the power to sink anything on their own.

Meadows quotable:

Reporter: "You just yelled at the Speaker on the floor?"

Meadows: "Oh no. I was just passionate."

What the issue was between Meadows and Ryan: Remember, the deal was that two bills would be voted on during the House GOP immigration debate: the so-called Goodlatte bill, which is backed by conservatives and considered the more hardline proposal, and a bill negotiated between moderates, conservatives and leadership. The issue last night was over what version of the Goodlatte bill would be voted on. Conservatives want a revised version that has been tweaked over the past few weeks and could pick up more votes. The original deal was that the vote would be on the original version of Goodlatte.

Confused? So are a lot of House members.

Can it be fixed: Wednesday evening, Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry of North Carolina told CNN the blowup was the result of a "miscommunication" and he thought it could be fixed. He also complimented Meadows for his efforts throughout the process. But when asked if they had the votes to pass the bill, McHenry paused, gave a wry grin, turned around a walked away.

It's worth taking a moment and realizing that the Republican-led House will soon vote on sweeping immigration legislation. This is the vote GOP leaders for years have been incapable of actually having because of policy differences, yes, but far more because of the politics.

To be clear, this was forced on them by restive moderates, and even if somehow they were able to pull off passage of the GOP compromise proposal, it has no future in the Senate. But that the votes are actually happening given threats of base backlash, or leadership challenges, or fractures that would implode the conference that have defined this debate for years, is something.

What the House bill does on family separation: The bill would essentially overturn the consent decree that caps how many days (understood to be 20) that children can stay in DHS custody, and would mandate that family units would stay together during criminal proceedings (which is currently the driving force behind the separations given the administration's "zero tolerance" policy.) The bill also would allow DHS to tap into a $7 billion pot of money for new or expanded residential centers to house the families in custody.

What's happening in the Senate?

The House bill's future if it gets the votes: Still non-existent. Doesn't have the votes in the Senate and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear he has no interest in a broad, all-encompassing immigration debate without a guaranteed outcome.

Senators are still working on a targeted way to address the family separation issue, even in the wake of the President's executive order -- and given what the order actually does (or doesn't do), almost spurred on because of it 27 Republican senators signed onto a tailored proposal Wednesday.

There was also a meeting of bipartisan senators Wednesday afternoon to try and figure out a path forward on legislation.

At the moment, it's unclear whether these efforts have any real juice. Remember, anything in the Senate needs 60 votes and thus, Democratic support. It would also then need to pass the House and be signed by President who wants full-scale overhaul, not a tailored approach.

Still, this is something to keep an eye on.