clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Why House Republicans’ immigration debate is a shitshow, explained by a Republican lawmaker

Rep. Mike Coffman says the House immigration vote has a simple problem: Nobody knows what Trump wants.

Undocumented Immigrants Wishing To Join The Military Discuss Their Cause With Legislators In D.C.
Rep. Mike Coffman is a moderate Republican who wants to get something done on immigration. He says Trump isn’t being clear.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Republicans are frustrated; it’s becoming increasingly clear they don’t have an immigration bill that can pass. And President Donald Trump doesn’t appear to be helping.

On Thursday, House Republicans failed to pass a conservative immigration bill originally introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) — the first of two votes on Republican-led immigration bills Republicans are planning to take. House leadership has delayed the vote on a second “compromise” bill, negotiated between conservative and moderate Republicans, for one more day to try to reconcile some turmoil between party factions.

Trump has told lawmakers he supports both bills. House leadership has supported both bills — with the expectation that the second bill would get more support. But it’s still short.

One Republican House member says the crux of the impasse is Trump’s failure to rally behind one piece of legislation.

“I think the notion of Republicans putting up two bills and the president saying, ‘Oh, I’d be happy if either one passes,’ I think was not a workable strategy,” Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), a moderate Republican on immigration who supported efforts to force a bipartisan vote on the issue, said. “I think the president should have gotten behind one bill.”

Other than supporting a partisan debate on immigration, and wanting something done, Trump’s administration hasn’t been particularly forceful on what it wants to see Congress do. When Trump was first asked about the two votes on Republican immigration bills, he said he wouldn’t support the “more moderate” one — a comment the White House was then forced to quickly backtrack, claiming Trump had misunderstood the question.

Then on Thursday, when Republicans were expected to vote on both bills, Trump tweeted that he didn’t see the “purpose” of two House bills that he said would go nowhere in the Senate. Republicans explicitly designed bills that wouldn’t get any Democratic support, but Trump blamed Democrats for obstructing negotiations anyway.

In a meeting with the entire House Republican conference earlier this week, Trump didn’t express support for one specific piece of legislation. In another meeting Wednesday with a group of roughly 17 House Republicans to gauge support, one Republican lawmaker in the room said Trump “understood” why some conservatives were against the Republican “compromise” bill.

“I believe [the compromise bill] is the bill he should have gotten behind, the second bill, because if any bill has a chance at all of passage in the Senate, it’s the second bill. The first bill, if it would have passed, it would have been dead on arrival at the Senate,” Coffman said, the second bill being the so-called “compromise” bill, and the first being the more conservative proposal from Goodlatte.

Trump has been known to complicate matters in Congress — especially when it comes to immigration. His administration announced last year it would sunset DACA, calling on Congress to act. Ever since, Trump’s administration has rejected every bipartisan legislative solution to the program, continuing to alienate Democrats by moving the conversation further to the right.

Trump has repeatedly pushed too far on immigration issues; he’s currently experiencing intense fallout from a border security policy that separated more than 2,300 migrant children from their families on the southern border. Coffman tweeted Thursday that Trump should fire Stephen Miller, a White House adviser who is known for being very hardline on immigration issues, for the family separation “human rights mess.”

Now, Trump isn’t even establishing a clear direction within the Republican Party — let alone with Democrats, who will need to support whatever bill gets through the Senate.

“I don’t understand where the administration is right now on this issue,” Coffman said.