Political News

Stubborn Divide in House as a Hard-Line Bill Fails and a Compromise Is Delayed

Posted June 22, 2018 12:00 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — The House rejected a hard-line immigration bill on Thursday and Republican leaders delayed a vote on a compromise measure that seemed destined to fail, then delayed it again, in the latest show of their party’s disarray over immigration.

The compromise, a broad immigration overhaul negotiated by moderate and conservative Republicans, was supposed to be voted on early Thursday evening. It would provide a path to citizenship for young, unauthorized immigrants while keeping migrant families together at the border, in addition to funding President Donald Trump’s border wall.

But with its prospects seeming dim, Republican leaders pushed the vote to Friday and huddled with their members in a last-ditch effort to stave off what would have been an embarrassing defeat. Then they delayed the vote again, to next week, as lawmakers discussed making additions to the legislation.

The turbulent day in the House offered yet another reminder of the deep divisions over immigration vexing Republicans, with no easy solutions in sight. Looming in the background throughout was Trump, who attacked Democrats and complained on Twitter that they “don’t care about security” and “won’t vote for anything!”

To some extent, Trump’s retreat on Wednesday on separating families at the border appeared to lessen the pressure on Congress to quickly pass a legislative fix. But the immigration votes were part of a long-running drama that can be traced back to a different action by Trump: his move last year to end an Obama-era program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which had shielded young immigrants known as Dreamers, who were brought illegally to the country as children.

The House went through with a planned vote Thursday afternoon on the hard-line immigration bill, named after its chief sponsor, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the Judiciary Committee. The measure had not been expected to pass, but conservatives had sought a vote on it anyway.

The bill failed, 193-231, with 41 Republicans in opposition, along with all 190 Democrats who voted.

The Goodlatte bill would have sharply reduced legal immigration while beefing up border security, cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities and requiring employers to use an internet-based system called E-Verify to confirm that they are hiring legal workers. It would have offered a three-year renewable legal status to DACA recipients.

The compromise bill, meanwhile, is facing trouble with conservatives, who would be taking a political risk by supporting a bill that has been derided as offering “amnesty” to young, unauthorized immigrants. Republican leaders appear to be hoping that with a bit more time, the legislation can be modified to win over reluctant members, with the addition of an E-Verify provision as one possible change.

Republicans in the Senate are backing narrow legislation to ensure that children are not taken from their parents at the border. But they were in disagreement with Democrats over how to do it, and senators from both parties tried Thursday to tamp down expectations that the chamber would pass a solution that would make it into law quickly. In the House, Republican leaders were trying to keep the compromise bill alive after it had appeared headed toward defeat.

“I am a big fat no — capital letters,” Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., said before the vote was delayed until next week. “I’m going to encourage other people to vote no because it doesn’t stop amnesty.”

Early in the day, Trump did not appear to help matters, venting his frustration on Twitter that even if the House passed immigration legislation, it would require Democratic support to clear the Senate. In effect, the president suggested that voting for the bill might be a pointless exercise — not exactly a persuasive message for conservatives on the fence about whether to support a measure that could rile up their party’s right flank.

The compromise bill came together as House Republican leaders tried to defuse a rebellion from moderates seeking action to protect the young immigrants known as Dreamers. The moderates had used a parliamentary tactic known as a discharge petition in an attempt to force a series of votes on immigration, including on a bipartisan bill that would have paired a path to citizenship for Dreamers with strengthened border security. The rebellious moderates ultimately fell two signatures short of what they needed to force votes this month.

Like the Goodlatte legislation, the compromise measure is a wide-ranging bill that would make significant changes to the immigration system. Among other things, it would provide billions of dollars for Trump’s promised wall along the southwest border with Mexico. It would offer a six-year renewable legal status to Dreamers, and it would create a new visa program through which they could eventually receive green cards based on factors like education, employment and English proficiency. In turn, they could become citizens.

To respond to children being separated from their parents at the border, House Republicans added language to the bill intended to keep families together when parents are prosecuted for crossing illegally. Before Trump signed his executive order on Wednesday, Speaker Paul Ryan had promoted the compromise bill as providing a fix to the crisis, saying it would keep families together in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security as legal proceedings played out.

Democrats have condemned the bill, which generally aligns with Trump’s stated requirements for any immigration overhaul.

“It is not a compromise,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader. “It may be a compromise with the devil, but it’s not a compromise with the Democrats, in terms of what they have in their bill.” House Republican leaders did find one bright spot on Thursday: The House narrowly passed its version of the farm bill, which failed last month after it became caught up in the Republican discord over immigration.

The House’s farm bill, which would impose new work requirements on food stamp recipients, passed with only Republican votes. The Senate did not include those contentious changes in its version of the bill, which has bipartisan support but still needs to clear that chamber. The Senate is set to act on its legislation next week.