America’s Immigration Problems Won’t Be Solved As House Conservatives Refuse To Concede

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Robert Donachie Capitol Hill and Health Care Reporter
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House Republicans are voting on two immigration bills Thursday at the bequest of President Donald Trump, but both have little — if any — chance of passing the chamber as of late Wednesday evening.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and House GOP leadership promised members Wednesday morning they would bring a pair of immigration proposals before the chamber for a vote Thursday, effectively satiating a Republican conference that is eager to address the key campaign issue of the 2016 election cycle.

The first bill was supposed to be a previously negotiated version of a bill from GOP Reps. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Michael McCaul of Texas that provided more border security funding, only granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients a temporary protected three-year legal status with no pathway for citizenship (which moderate Republicans are fervently asking leadership to provide) and included other features, such as E-verify.

The other proposal is one leadership rolled out after a conference meeting on June 11, calling it a compromise proposal. The bill includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, known as “Dreamers;” some funding for the president’s much-lauded border wall and provisions to end the separation of children from their parents who illegally immigrated to the U.S.

Trump promised House Republicans Tuesday evening that he was with them “1,000 percent” and would sign whatever agreement the conference passed. Some conservative members told reporters they did not necessarily believe the president, arguing that if he wanted a specific bill to pass he would have advocated for it in front of the entire conference.

As the clock ticks closer to the Thursday deadline, it looks increasingly clear that conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus (HFC), who, threatened in May by moderate Republicans who were pushing a discharge petition to force leadership’s hands on a vote they deemed “amnesty,” killed a farm appropriations bill in an effort to undercut the moderates move, will vote against both proposals. (RELATED: Why The HFC Killed The Farm Bill)

The discharge petition needs 218 signatures and, thus far, has 215 names, including Democratic House leadership.

The scenario looked all the more likely after HFC Chairman Mark Meadows got into a heated conversation on the House floor Wednesday evening during votes because he learned leadership was going to put forth a version of Goodlatte’s bill — a bill that was originally the compromise position after the first round of immigration discussions in 2017 — that did not include many of the agreed upon provisions conservatives demanded.

After leaving the House floor, Meadows told reporters “the compromise bill is not ready for prime time.”

A source close to the HFC told TheDCNF that he didn’t expect the caucus to take an official position on either bill. Some HFC members support Goodlatte, while others are a split on leadership’s comprise bill. The source added that, “At the moment, I don’t think either of them have 218,” an allusion to the vote threshold needed to pass the House.

Trump and Republican leadership launched a last-minute campaign Wednesday afternoon to garner support within the conference for the compromise bill. A group of House Republicans were sent to the White House Wednesday afternoon to meet with the president, with the hope that the president could sway them in one direction or the other. (RELATED: What’s Up With Immigration In Congress)

Leadership also provided the president with a list of Republicans he could try to sway to a “yes” on the compromise bill.

Others don’t believe leadership is actually trying to pass anything and are using the vote on Goodlatte’s bill to stop the discharge petition, which some staffers claim is really their ultimate goal.

“The reality is … the goal is to avert the discharge petition. That is why are putting a weaker version of Goodlatte so it doesn’t get votes. They are going to pressure people to vote for the compromise bill. It is not looking like a good faith effort,” another senior GOP aide told TheDCNF. “Their ultimate goal is to kill the discharge petition. They don’t really care about anything passing anyway.”

There are similar murmurs on the conservative side of the aisle; however, those within leadership say they are listening to the concerns members have voiced throughout the past two weeks of meetings and are trying to figure to how to find consensus within the conference.

“Leadership met Wednesday evening to discuss a path forward and to figure out what the next steps were,” a leadership aide told TheDCNF. “Currently the schedule has not changed for tomorrow. We anticipate voting on the two immigration bills and possibly the farm bill.”

The HFC killed the farm bill in May in order to set up a vote on Goodlatte’s bill and stymie the moderate’s discharge petition, sources within the caucus made clear to TheDCNF that immigration votes Thursday make good on what they were promised from leadership and they aren’t likely to hold up the farm bill Friday when members vote for the bill a second time.

TheDCNF has learned that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise is working within the conference to try to make modifications on the Goodlatte proposal that could be more amenable to some conservatives’ demands.

Conservatives push back against that claim, believing leadership isn’t actively working to whip Goodlatte and rather acutely focused on stopping the discharge petition to keep order within the conference.

Leadership is adamant that it has been actively working to stop the discharge petition. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Scalise are proponents of many parts of Goodlatte’s bill.

Scalise has made a number of public statements since Goodlatte’s rollout that are in favor of the bill and has said the discharge petition would lead to “blanket amnesty.” McCarthy also told reporters that Republicans are not going to push “amnesty” and instead move towards a “merit based” system of immigration.

The previous public statements on the part of McCarthy and Scalise show, at the very least, leadership was trying to stop the discharge petition. Whether or not that was the ultimate goal remains a debate within the conference.

Ryan’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment from TheDCNF.

A number of GOP staffers have expressed their disappointment with leadership and Scalise’s efforts to get Goodlatte’s bill on the floor. Sources told TheDCNF on multiple occasions that Scalise is barely whipping the bill, despite promising members on a regular basis that he is putting his weight behind getting the votes.

As the fate of the farm bill — a bill that includes conservatives’ long sought after goal of imposing work requirements to federal welfare programs — looks all but certain, it is safe to say immigration, much like an Obamacare repeal once did before passing the House, could come down to the wire. The chances of any conference wide consensus agreement appears highly unlikely.

Even if one or the other proposal passed the House, the Senate is, at least during the Trump administration with a slim GOP majority, the chamber where immigration bills are almost certain to fall short.

The last major immigration bill to successfully make its way through the Senate was the “Gang of 8” bill.

Senators voted on four separate immigration proposals in mid-February and each one of them, including one that mirrors Trump’s proposal, failed. The Senate also voted on a bill from Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware and GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona that, like Trump’s “four pillars” plan, provided a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million “Dreamers” but did not include funding for Trump’s border wall.

Another bill from GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine contained the 1.8 million pathway, provided Trump’s requested $25 billion for border security and prevented “Dreamers” from sponsoring their parents for legal status — a hat tip to chain migration — but it, too, failed.

The failures came just one month after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered Trump and Senate GOP leadership the entire $25 billion for the construction of a border wall in January in exchange for legal protections and a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers” in January.

Schumer ultimately pulled the proposal, shutting down the government for a weekend only to cave the following Monday. (RELATED: Democrats Shut Down The Government To Secure Protections For Dreamers)

The week began with a series of contentious debates surrounding the Trump administration’s enforcement of a policy that separated children from their parents who illegally immigrate to the U.S.

The Trump administration announced Monday that it will continue to separate children from their parents who immigrated to the U.S. illegally, continuing a practice that was in place well before the president took office.

Under former President Barack Obama, immigrant children were put into separate holding facilities from their parents. The parents would then receive a court order to appear before a judge at a later date, but, without a real incentive to show up for the hearing, many parents fled with their children into other parts of the U.S.

The Trump administration has made it a point to prosecute adults who illegally immigrate, but, due to a 9th Circuit ruling, the government cannot hold an immigrant family for more than 20 days. During that time, the government either has to separate a child from their parents while they are put under legal proceedings, or give the parents a later court date and hope they appear before an immigration judge at that time. (RELATED: US Should Separate Children From Illegals)

Still, the administration’s public announcement, along with widespread media coverage of children being forcibly removed from their parents, caused a great deal of outcry from the public.

The president, who wants Congress to act quickly to solve the issue, responded Wednesday to calls for him to address the separation policy. Trump signed an executive order to start detaining families who immigrated illegally together while they undergo prosecution. (RELATED: Trump Executive Action To Stop Family Separation)

Trump and the White House spent the better part of a week getting lambasted for its decision to enforce the “zero tolerance” immigration policy.

The only point of consensus within the Senate Tuesday was that Trump should use swift executive action, which could be a reason the administration worked so quickly to work up an order.

“I support and all of the senators of the Republican conference support a plan that keeps families together,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after the Senate GOP lunch Tuesday afternoon.

McConnell did not specify what proposal or plan he was referencing, simply stating that, after a two-hour conference lunch, every Republican senator wants to see families kept together. The Senate majority leader said Tuesday the most likely proposal that would pass the upper chamber that addresses the separation policy must be “narrow” and tailored.

GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, along with GOP Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and John Kennedy of Louisiana, put forth a proposal Monday that would create new immigration judges, new facilities to keep families together while they are being held, and an expedited pathway for those who immigrate illegally to see a judge and legally apply for asylum. If they are not granted asylum within a 14-day period after their hearing, the immigrant will be deported back to their home country.

“We’re going to fix the problem,” McConnell said Tuesday. “In order to fix this problem, you can’t fix all of the problems. … Therefore, it would need to be a narrow fix.”

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch circulated a letter Tuesday around Capitol Hill that requested the Department of Justice halt its enforcement of the policy until Congress arrives at a legislative fix for the issue. Thirteen senators signed onto Hatch’s letter.

The administration’s talking point has been to put the blame on parents for bringing their children across the U.S. border illegally. Congressional Democrats, much like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, defer the blame on the administration. The policy has caused a great deal of uproar; however, the majority of the congressional body isn’t doing anything proactive, using the moment for political gain and posturing. (RELATED: Gillibrand Calls Separation Policy Evil)

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont told TheDCNF Tuesday afternoon he thinks the administration’s decision to enforce the separation policy shows exactly what kind of character the president has and thinks the president should act immediately to end the policy. If he failed to do so, Sanders said Congress must come up with a legislative solution.

“Totally disgraceful, un-America action on the part of the president, who is really showing the world and the American people the kind of cruelty that he believes in. … He can end that policy tomorrow,” Sanders told TheDCNF “If he doesn’t, Congress must act.”

Axios’ Jonathan Swan reported Wednesday morning that the president was personally moved by the images of young children being extricated from their parents, but that he did not want to appear weak in backing down. The president reportedly felt boxed in but ultimately knew he couldn’t retreat from the fight.

If both proposals fail in the House Thursday, Meadows is prepping a narrow deal (possibly like the one McConnell said Tuesday would be the only option in the Senate) with family separation if the House fails to pass either of the above bills.

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