At 9:40 pm on Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office announced the House will vote on two immigration bills next week, one conservative proposal and one compromise piece of legislation that has yet to be written.
“The House will consider two bills next week that will avert the discharge petition and resolve the border security and immigration issues,” Ryan’s spokesperson AshLee Strong said in a statement Tuesday night.
The news comes on the heel of the movement to get a majority of lawmakers to sign on to a discharge petition, pushed by a group of frustrated moderates and Democrats who want to see action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA has been tied up in the courts ever since the Trump administration announced last year that it would sunset the program, leaving nearly 700,000 immigrants in limbo. By Tuesday, that petition was only two signatures short of forcing votes on two moderate immigration proposals, a conservative bill, and one up to Ryan to decide.
But moderates, who say they have reached an agreement with conservatives (although the details of that deal are still murky), have thrown in the towel on that push — instead heeding Ryan’s demands to keep the debate within the Republican caucus.
Ryan has desperately wanted to avoid a messy immigration fight that would involve negotiating with Democrats too. So he called together House Republicans last week for a two-hour “family meeting” on immigration policy to show moderates he’s willing to talk meaningfully about DACA and get a majority of the GOP on the same page. Ryan’s strategy worked, in that it stopped the moderate’s revolt. But it’s still not clear what the compromise “deal” is — and whether it will bring Congress any closer to actually passing an immigration bill.
It’s still not clear what the compromise immigration deal is
Ryan says the House will hold two votes on immigration policy. One of those bills will be a conservative proposal by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), which gives temporary status to DACA recipients, makes deep cuts to legal immigration, and boosts interior enforcement. That much is clear. But whatever that second proposal will contain is still up for debate.
On Tuesday, moderate Republicans and conservatives met with Ryan to hash out some process questions on the “compromise” bill. The compromise follows a framework set forward by the White House: legal status for DREAMers, border security, an end to the diversity visa lottery, and curbing family-based legal immigration. But among the separate groups, lawmakers were still discussing some high-level questions on the actual substance of immigration policy on each of the Trump administration’s “four pillars” for a bill.
Freedom Caucus Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) told Vox that the Freedom Caucus is still negotiating the degree of border security, how to verify the legal status of immigrants, and a “pathway to citizenship, if any.”
“How do you set it up so it’s not definable as any kind of amnesty?” Barton said, noting this was still one of the biggest questions in the Freedom Caucus.
Meanwhile, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), who was one of the lead moderate lawmakers behind the discharge petition, said the differences on policy were small but “important.” He said Ryan’s allies were working with members of the Judiciary Committee to prepare to draft legislation, but that lawmakers were still working off an outline of a compromise. In other words, there is no compromise bill yet, per se.
But there will be votes on something — and that was enough assurance for moderates to drop the discharge petition.
This is a clear win for Paul Ryan
Immigration has always been tough for Republicans, and President Trump has only escalated the divisions. The White House’s “four pillars” for an immigration bill cover both legal and illegal immigration.
From the beginning, Ryan made it very clear he was not happy with this discharge petition. He said it will cede control of the floor to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi by allowing bills to get through with mostly Democratic support. And he said Trump wouldn’t sign on. Needless to say, a series of contentious votes on a divisive issue like immigration also wouldn’t be a good look for Republicans in a high-stakes election year.
The last signatures on the discharge petition would have triggered votes on the House floor on four bills using an obscure rule called the “queen of the hill.” Under this rule, whichever bill passes by the biggest margin wins. As Vox’s Dara Lind explained, two of the bills that would get votes would give permanent legal status to DACA recipients; the third is a conservative proposal from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA); and the fourth bill is at Speaker Ryan’s discretion. Because Republicans have such a slim majority, it’s likely the more moderate proposals would pass.
So to take control of the situation, Ryan set out to negotiate a compromise between moderates and conservatives that follows the demands put forward by the White House. In stopping the discharge petition, he has succeeded. In actually making immigration law, there’s a lot up in the air.
The White House framework has already failed in the Senate. The House is ignoring that.
Republican leaders keep saying they want to pass something in the House that can become law. But it’s not clear that this is a step to make that a reality.
Any bill that is going to make it to Trump’s desk has to pass the Senate, where it will need support from Democrats to meet the 60-vote threshold. But looming over this House debate is Congress’s first immigration fight this year — the Senate’s. In February, the Senate struck down three immigration proposals that addressed DACA. The White House-inspired bill, which Ryan is now trying to push in the House, got the fewest votes in the Senate.
At this point, Ryan doesn’t seem to care.
“If I sat around as speaker of the House and thought about what can the United States Senate do, we wouldn’t do anything,” Ryan said. “So we don’t spend our time thinking about votes in the Senate. We spend our time thinking about how we can get consensus here in the House Republican conference and getting bills through the House.”
One senator who has been a central figure in the immigration debate, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), has already said the discharge petition would have been the best path forward.
Asked if he thinks the White House’s “pillars” are tenable in the Senate, he simply said, “No.”