The Washington Post

Immigratio­n push

Rare maneuver to force vote on ‘dreamers’ is five signatures short of success

- BY MIKE DEBONIS mike.debonis@washpost.com John Wagner contribute­d to this report.

House members were close to forcing a vote on bills that would help young immigrants known as “dreamers,” despite a veto threat from the president.

House advocates for moderate immigratio­n policies stood at the cusp of forcing votes on bills that would give young undocument­ed immigrants a pathway to U.S. citizenshi­p — even as President Trump threatened to veto any legislatio­n that did not hew to his hard-line views.

Backers of a rare procedural maneuver that would spark an immigratio­n debate against the wishes of House Republican leaders were five signatures short of reaching the necessary 218 after two Republican­s and six Democrats added their names to the discharge petition Thursday.

They signed the petition as conservati­ve and moderate Republican­s negotiated with House leaders to avert it — and hours after Trump responded to the effort by pledging to veto any bill that does not build “a real wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Unless it improves a wall, and I mean a wall, a real wall, and unless it improves very strong border security, there’ll be no approvals from me, because I have to either approve it or not,” Trump said during a Fox News Channel interview taped Wednesday and aired early Thursday.

Even with Trump threatenin­g a veto, House Republican leaders want to avoid a messy floor showdown over immigratio­n — an issue that has badly split their party for years and one they warn could cost them majority control in November.

Conservati­ves who embrace Trump’s hard-line stance reject any effort that they argue what amounts to amnesty for immigrants in the United States illegally. Moderates are frustrated with months of inaction after Trump canceled the Obama-era program to protect young immigrants, known as “dreamers,” from deportatio­n.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday acknowledg­ed “very good conversati­ons” but refused to say whether he supports a key demand from the advocates: a vote on a bill that would create permanent legal status for young immigrants who arrived in the United States illegally as children.

“We’re trying to find that sweet spot,” Ryan said. “We’re not going to negotiate through the media.”

Other leaders, including Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), the chief deputy whip, predicted that the petition would ultimately succeed — heightenin­g pressure on House leaders to come up with a Plan B.

GOP Reps. Tom Reed (N.Y.) and Brian Fitzpatric­k (Pa.) signed on Thursday. The discharge proponents said they remain prepared to gather the remaining signatures next month, after Congress returns from a week-long Memorial Day break.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who filed the petition and is among the leaders of the effort to force immigratio­n votes, said he believes that the break will make Republican­s more likely to sign on when they return.

“If there’s an agreement before we get to 25 [Republican signatures], that’s the only thing that will impede our progress,” he said. “We will get to the number we need to get to.”

Whether an agreement is possible remains in serious doubt. Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), who has been involved in the talks as chairman of the conservati­ve Republican Study Committee, said negotiatio­ns were “on hold” pending the recess, with a key question unresolved: whether to allow a vote on a bill granting permanent legal status for dreamers — one that, by implicatio­n or not, would give them a path to citizenshi­p.

“Is it a special pathway or not? That’s where the hang-up is,” Walker said. “As far as putting them in front [of the line for citizenshi­p], that’s where it shuts down.”

One bill favored by the moderates would give dreamers a 10year path to becoming a legal permanent resident, also known as “green card” status, from which they could go through a two-year process to receive citizenshi­p. Curbelo said “a bridge into the legal immigratio­n system is crucial.”

Even if House Republican­s could reach an internal accord, Trump’s approval remains essential. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he would bring up a House immigratio­n bill only if “I thought there was a chance of actually making a law” — that is, Trump would sign it.

“We have to make law — not just spin our wheels,” McConnell told the Journal. He made similar comments in interviews with other news organizati­ons.

The Senate voted on four competing immigratio­n proposals in February; none garnered the necessary 60 votes. But a bill emerging from the House, long riven by sharp conflicts on the immigratio­n issue, could compel the chamber to take action.

“The higher hurdle’s in the House,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government­al Affairs Committee. “Put that marker on the table, and then we should go to work in the Senate. . . . I think it would actually make it easier.”

McHenry, who has been closely involved in the effort to quash the petition effort, said the talks will come to a head when lawmakers return to Washington next month. The backers effectivel­y have until June 9 to gather support if they want to force votes by the end of next month.

“It’s in complete flux,” McHenry said of the talks. “There’s enough goodwill to come to a resolution. We’ll just see if we can actually close it out and get there.”

An emerging complicati­on for the discharge proponents isn’t Republican­s — it’s Democrats. While 190 House Democrats have signed — including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), who joined Thursday — three are holding out over concerns about Trump’s border wall.

All three — Reps. Henry Cuellar, Vicente Gonzalez and Filemon Vela — represent Texas border districts where the wall is unpopular, and they fear that an immigratio­n debate with Republican­s in the House majority would simply pave the way for wall funding.

“I’m not ever going to be in a position where I’m going to enable or facilitate border wall funding,” Vela said in an interview last week. “It’s just not going to happen.”

Asked by a reporter Thursday whether his views had changed, Vela held up his cellphone and showed a news article reporting recent comments from Hoyer indicating that Democrats were willing to negotiate on the border wall.

“What part of ‘no’ do people not understand?” he said.

 ?? SANDY HUFFAKER/GETTY IMAGES ?? Border Patrol agents watch as Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at Border Field State Park on May 7, 2018, in San Ysidro, Calif.
SANDY HUFFAKER/GETTY IMAGES Border Patrol agents watch as Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at Border Field State Park on May 7, 2018, in San Ysidro, Calif.
 ?? LOREN ELLIOTT/REUTERS ?? Immigrants walk away from the Rio Grande on May 9 after illegally crossing the border near McAllen, Tex. President Trump says he will veto a new bill unless it includes funding for a border wall.
LOREN ELLIOTT/REUTERS Immigrants walk away from the Rio Grande on May 9 after illegally crossing the border near McAllen, Tex. President Trump says he will veto a new bill unless it includes funding for a border wall.

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