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Paul Ryan is in denial about Republicans’ immigration fight

Or he’s lying.

House Speaker Paul Ryan Holds Weekly News Conference
House Speaker Paul Ryan’s rosy depiction of immigration talks falls flat.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

House Speaker Paul Ryan made a claim about the ongoing immigration fight in Congress during his weekly press conference that everyone knows isn’t true.

“What we all agree is that the four pillars is a really good point to rally around,” Ryan said at a press conference Thursday about the White House’s four immigration policy demands. “We don’t have disagreement on those four pillars. What we are doing now is reaching consensus on how to address those four pillars.”

There’s a big problem with that statement. It’s disconnected from the realities of his own Republican conference. Let me explain.

The press conference took place after House Republicans gathered for a two-hour meeting to find a path forward on a legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has been in legal limbo since President Trump’s administration announced it would sunset the program last year. Ryan’s read of the meeting was exceedingly positive, papering over the very real divisions that exist within the Republican caucus.

“This is an issue that everything is complicated, everything is controversial,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) said when asked how much disagreement there is on Trump’s four pillars. “There is disagreement on everything.”

For the past year, Republicans have been at an impasse over the future of DACA; moderates want to put the program protecting young undocumented immigrants into law, while conservatives have myriad demands around border security and restricting legal immigration. Inaction on the issue has pushed moderates to sign on to a discharge petition, along with Democrats, that with enough signatures would force several votes on a DACA fix.

Ryan’s argument around the House’s immigration fight has been the same for the past year: The House should only pass something that can become law — that Trump will sign — and the path to doing that is through following the White House’s criteria. The discharge petition, Ryan argues, wouldn’t result in law.

But there also isn’t consensus behind the White House’s proposal, which includes a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants who would qualify for DACA, funding for a border wall, an end to the diversity visa lottery, and curbing of family-based immigration, which would substantially gut legal immigration.

Among the seven House Republicans Vox talked to after the meeting, moderates and conservatives, every single one confirmed that the conference cannot agree on whether the final immigration bill should include a path to citizenship. There’s debate whether legal status should be a special visa, citizenship, or something different altogether. Some hardline conservatives are uncomfortable with all of the above.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) told Vox there isn’t even consensus on what the four pillars are. Ryan seemed to confirm that in the same press conference, telling reporters, “The four pillars — you all know what they are — how we come together to decide what constitutes the four pillars is really what matters here.”

And even if there were consensus behind an immigration bill on the White House’s four pillars, Ryan’s argument that the House should only pass something that can become law would break down.

The Senate has voted on an immigration bill covering the four pillars. It failed. In fact, among the four immigration bills the Senate voted on, the White House-mirrored proposal got the least support.

No one needs to explain to Ryan that for a bill to become a law, per the Constitution, it needs to also pass the Senate. What does he have to say about that?

“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.”

In other words, he doesn’t currently care if the compromise bill can become law.

Thursday’s episode was a perfect encapsulation of where immigration talks sit in Congress. House Republicans are at just as much of an impasse as they have been for two decades. They can’t decide on whether young undocumented immigrants should be granted a path to citizenship, or guest worker status, or even legal status at all.

Ryan is trying to put a shine on a messy fight — and he can’t keep his message straight.