Republican lawmakers have been at a standstill as Democrats and GOP moderates threaten to force a vote on Dreamers.
House Republican leaders, eager to stop an immigration showdown in their chamber, have begun cutting deals with lawmakers who might help moderate Republicans trigger bipartisan votes to protect Dreamers.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy phoned Rep. Dennis Ross on Monday and offered the Florida Republican what he wanted in hopes of keeping him from joining the moderates' discharge petition: the promise of a vote on a guest worker program before August recess.
Ross, who's retiring at the end of the year, had been threatening for weeks to join Democrats along with two dozen Republicans to force a series of immigration votes addressing the Obama-era Deferred for Childhood Arrival program. The group needs only three more signatures to reach 218 threshold.
Ross appeared to be satisfied after the call from McCarthy. And it‘s unclear now whether GOP moderates will be able to garner enough support for the so-called discharge petition by the close of business Tuesday, as they originally intended.
"I’m probably going to take myself off the [discharge petition] watch list," Ross said in a brief interview. A guest worker program for immigrants employed in agriculture and construction and the like "has been my big issue. We need to have labor. We’re in a negative population growth in the United States … Where we going to find people to do these jobs?"
It is unclear what Ross' decision means for the discharge petition's fate. Moderates on Friday began downplaying the Tuesday deadline, arguing that technically they could force the immigration matter in July or even later if they wanted.
If they push back their deadline, however, it will be the third time they've done so. Originally, moderates, who rarely go against leadership, said they wanted to have a deal with conservatives on immigration before the Memorial Day recess — or they'd force the issue and garner the final signatures before the break. That came and went, however, with moderates eyeing a June 7 deadline instead. Then the date became June 12.
Moderates argue that they have the signatures ready to go and have just been holding off to give leadership more time to come up with a DACA bill the majority of the conference can support.
If moderates are unwilling or unable to garner the final signatures, it's unlikely that House Republicans will have any votes this summer to protect Dreamers from deportation. Talks between conservatives and moderates on the matter have stalled over enforcement matters, though GOP leaders will meet with both camps Tuesday night to continue negotiations.
Many Republicans are skeptical that they'll be able to strike a deal. Indeed, top Republicans from the House Freedom Caucus told moderates that they’re unlikely to have an agreement by Tuesday, suggesting they forge ahead with their petition if that's what they intended to do. That's because moderates on Friday balked at conservatives‘ demands for beefed-up immigration enforcement measures in return for hard-liners' support for a new path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of Dreamers.
In discussions over the weekend that included party leaders as well as Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), and Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), among others, enforcement mechanisms under the new immigration proposal remained the biggest stumbling block to a deal.
Freedom Caucus members and other immigration hard-liners want to dramatically expand the use of E-Verify, the federal online system for checking individual employees‘ eligibility to work in the United States. The system currently is voluntary unless a state requires it or the employer is working on a federal contract.
The Freedom Caucus wants the use of E-Verify to be mandatory for all companies with 50 or more employees, a move opposed by the White House and business groups.
Another key issue is reform of the U.S. asylum system, which immigration opponents believe has been routinely abused. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that victims of domestic abuse or gang violence may not qualify for asylum. Sessions said there are about 700,000 immigration cases outstanding in federal courts as asylum claims have soared in recent years.
"Border security — and that is to include things well beyond any appropriations for wall funding — remains the biggest stumbling block," said Meadows, chairman of the Freedom Caucus. "Most conservatives want to make sure if we deal with this DACA issue, we're not having to deal with it again in another decade from now. That's why the enforcement issue is so critical."
With the immigration talks deadlocked, attention has shifted to moderate Republicans, who are prepared to join with Democrats and force a DACA vote in defiance of Ryan and President Donald Trump. Like Ross, Rep. Daniel Newhouse (R-Wash.) has also considered joining with the two dozen moderates and Democrats to force bipartisan votes on Dreamers.
Newhouse's office on Monday did not return multiple requests clarity on whether he intended to sign.
One Democratic holdout, Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, has declined to sign the discharge petition because he opposes any plan that would provide funding for Trump's border wall. But Cuellar is expected to come around if two additional Republicans add their names.
“My Republican colleagues need to get two additional signatures in order to bring this to a vote. If they are able to do so, then I will consider signing onto the petition,” Cuellar said in a statement Monday.
In a significant development last week, conservatives and moderates had appeared to coalesce behind a new visa program for Dreamers and other types of immigrants floated by Labrador. Giving Dreamers a pathway to citizenship would satisfy the top demand of moderates.
But conservatives, who for years have railed against a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, wanted certain enforcement measures included in the bill. On Friday, conservatives laid out some of those demands, also pushing for E-Verify over the weekend.
“There are things that have to be in the bill to ensure that illegal immigration does not increase and we don’t have a crisis 10 years from now,” Labrador said.
Some moderates are now privately accusing conservatives of shifting their demands after the framework of a deal had been agreed to. Conservatives counter that there never was an agreement in the first place.
“Typical Freedom Caucus,” scoffed one moderate GOP source.
Senior GOP aides point to Ryan’s recent comments that any deal should focus on the four pillars outlined by Trump earlier this year: a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, border security and changes to current policies governing diversity visas and family-based immigration. GOP leadership wants to avoid more divisive issues, such as expanding E-Verify.
Republican sources say they’re still hoping to bring compromise legislation to the floor, even if falls short of passage as expected. That plan, at least, would avoid the embarrassment of a Democratic-backed immigration bill passing the Republican-led House, a likely outcome if the discharge petition moves forward.
“At this point the goal is really to allow both sides of our conference to be on the record with their position while averting the discharge petition,” a senior GOP aide said Monday.
But it’s unclear what incentive Republican moderates have to go along with such an idea — assuming a compromise can even be reached — if the bill is expected to fail on the floor.
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