Unusual strategy by rebels in GOP
California Republican pair file rare discharge petition to revive immigration bills
WASHINGTON — A rebellion led by a pair of California Republicans seeking to force a House vote on DACA legislation is closing in on success, despite GOP leadership’s efforts to kill it.
At stake could be the long-term future of more than 600,000 undocumented immigrants who are temporarily protected from being deported under the Deferred Action for
Childhood Arrivals policy, which President Trump has tried to kill. Also at stake could be the long-term future of Central Valley GOP
Reps. Jeff Denham and David Valadao, who face difficult re-election battles in districts that are leaning more Democratic.
Congress failed to make headway on immigration issues earlier this year, and the urgency to resolve DACA recipients’ status faded when
Trump’s effort to end the Obama-era program became entangled in the courts. Judges have ordered the administration to extend current applicants’ status and accept new applications from undocumented immigrants who came to this country as minors.
Then last week, Denham and Valadao joined Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Florida and Fred Upton of Michigan in filing what’s known as a discharge petition — a rarely invoked procedure to do an endrun around House leaders and force a measure to be brought to the floor.
For the tactic to succeed, a majority of House members must sign on — which would require 25 Republicans and all 193 Democrats to join forces. As of Thursday, 20 Republicans had joined the petition, with Reps. John Katko of New York and Dave Trott of Michigan the latest to climb aboard.
Denham has written and co-sponsored several immigration-related bills, most of which have not gained traction. In a message to constituents last week, the four-term congressman from Turlock (Stanislaus County) said Congress should not be leaving the fate of DACA recipients up to the courts.
“Congress must do its job and have the debate we have avoided for years,” he wrote. “Congress has blown past every deadline put in front of us and left the lives of these people and the security of our borders in limbo with no permanent solution in sight.”
If the petition can pick up the needed signatures, leadership would be forced to bring to the floor four existing immigration bills that address DACA. Denham’s discharge petition provides for one bipartisan measure, one hard-line Republicanbacked bill, a Democrats’ proposal to sign the existing version of DACA into law and a fourth that would be up to House Speaker Paul Ryan to choose. Whichever receives the most votes in the so-called queen of the hill resolution would move on to the Senate.
Discharge petitions are seldom successful — the last one to work was a 2015 effort to reauthorize the U.S. ExportImport Bank. But Denham said he was “confident we have the names and the votes,” even with Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, RBakersfield, fighting hard against it.
McCarthy told fellow Republicans in a meeting Wednesday that passing a bipartisan immigration bill would depress Republican turnout in the November election and jeopardize the party’s control of the House, according to Politico, which quoted an unidentified source who was at the session.
Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Wednesday that without Trump’s agreement on a deal, there was little point moving forward. “We don’t want to advance something that we know will just get vetoed,” he said.
Before Congress halted work on a DACA deal in February, Trump backed a proposal that would have provided a path to citizenship for people eligible for the DACA program. In exchange, it would have permitted future immigrants to sponsor only their spouses and minor children for admission, end the diversity visa lottery that allows entry to 50,000 people a year from countries with low levels of migration to the United States, and provide $25 billion for border security.
Such a bill would win few if any Democratic votes today. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco said this week that some Republicans may be holding off on signing the discharge petition to help Ryan “save face.”
But she added that Denham, Valadao and the other Republicans who want a DACA vote “are close to the number. And the prediction is they will get the number.”
The White House said Thursday that Trump’s position on immigration has not changed. “We need strong immigration laws,” the president said during a press availability with visiting NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.
Like Denham, Valadao has been targeted for election defeat this year by Democrats hoping to flip 25 seats nationwide and retake the House. Valadao has won three elections in a San Joaquin Valley district that Trump lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016 by more than 15 points. Trump lost Denham’s district as well, and Denham himself beat his Democratic opponent in 2016 by just three points.
“Immigration reform is not a partisan issue, and, for far too long, Republicans and Democrats alike have failed to provide America with a solution,” said Valadao, R-Hanford (Kings County). “Each of the four pieces of legislation included in the queen of the hill resolution aim to reform our immigration system in a unique and diverse way. At the very least, each proposal deserves to be fully debated and considered in Congress.”
Ryan and other House leaders may have a way out, even if enough Republicans sign on to Denham and Valadao’s effort. Some members of the Freedom Caucus, which includes the most conservative House Republicans, have approached Ryan offering to bring a hardline immigration bill to the floor separately.
That bill, by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., would provide temporary legal status for DACA participants, renewable every three years. It would also eliminate extended-family visas not only for future but also current immigrants, including the backlog of 4 million family visa applications. It would cut other immigration programs by nearly 25 percent and block federal funds to sanctuary cities.
The bill would almost certainly fail, but bringing it to the floor separately could kill the discharge petition effort. The bill is one of the four that would be considered under the petition, but it cannot be brought to the floor twice.
Reps. David Valadao, R-Hanford (Kings County), and Jeff Denham, R-Turlock (Stanislaus County), leaders of the GOP rebellion, are gaining support from other House Republicans.
Demonstrating for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals legislation rally near Trump Tower in New York in 2017.