House Republican Moderates Close in on Discharge Petition for Immigration Reform

House Republicans have until next Tuesday to solve an intractable, decades-old problem.

Moderate GOP members itching for progress on immigration legislation are just three signatures away from forcing votes on a series of immigration bills, which would likely lead to the passage of another immigration bill favored heavily by Democrats. For now, some say they’ll hold off on pulling the trigger—but only until next week, when they expect GOP leaders to offer a yet-to-be-determined compromise that could, in theory, pass with 218 Republican votes instead.

“We’ve got until next Tuesday to get an agreement on paper that we know we’ve got whipped and have enough votes for,” California Republican Jeff Denham, a leader of the effort to protect unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, said Thursday.

If the opposing factions within the Republican conference prove unable to reach an agreement on how to address immigration before Tuesday, moderate Republicans have indicated they will proceed with their discharge petition, a legislative mechanism that can be used by a majority of members to circumvent the will of the House leadership and force votes. Using the discharge petition, Denham and his colleagues would put four different immigration measures up for a vote, including the Dream Act (a bipartisan bill drafted by Reps. Will Hurd and Pete Aguilar), a conservative measure sponsored by Judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte, and a bill of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s choosing.

If the moderates move forward on the discharge petition, it would tee up a showdown on June 25, because, under House rules, discharge petitions can only be brought up on the second and fourth Mondays of each month.

Republican leaders oppose the discharge petition, arguing that it amounts to handing the floor over to Democrats—all but one of whom have signed on to the measure, leaving the count at 215 supporters in total. They say moderates should work alongside Republicans to come up with a more conservative immigration bill that could earn the support of the president. Conversations have been ongoing, but have thus far yielded scarce results.

Negotiations appeared unstable Thursday afternoon, when it became clear that moderates and conservatives were on very different pages. Denham told reporters that a deal existed with the conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus involving an eight-year path to citizenship for DACA recipients. But shortly after, Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows denied any such deal had been struck.

The confusion came after the House Republican conference met behind closed doors for two hours on Thursday morning to carve a path forward. Members said the meeting offered a productive opportunity for discussion, but none were able to point to any concrete policy breakthroughs from the meeting. “There were a lot of opinions all over the board,” said conservative member Andy Biggs.

Biggs told THE WEEKLY STANDARD he thought the meeting was helpful, but guessed that some key players may have been withholding their true thoughts during the discussion. “A lot of people hold their cards close to their vest,” he explained. Still, Speaker Ryan projected confidence after the meeting. “Our members realize it’s better to have a process that has a chance of going into law than not,” Ryan told reporters during a press conference Thursday morning. “And that’s why the conversation we had this morning about the president’s four pillars, which also has a DACA solution within it, is the most optimistic, plausible chance of getting into law.”

Afterwards, congressional Republicans found themselves in much the same spot as before the closed-door meeting. The divided conference has struggled to reach consensus on a number of issues, such as specifying how many Dreamers should be able to qualify for a path to citizenship. Those policy disagreements remain unsolved.

But at least the conversation didn’t devolve into a shouting match. “I had entered the room thinking it might be shouting and screaming,” said Rep. Leonard Lance, a supporter of the discharge petition. Instead, he said, it was a cordial discussion. Texas Republican Joe Barton was also pleasantly surprised—“Nobody cussed anybody.”

And Rep. Thomas Massie joked that the discussion made him consider signing the discharge petition, if only to put an end to the meeting. “I was sitting there thinking if I could get another person to walk out of here and sign the discharge petition with me, we could end this meeting,” the Kentucky lawmaker joked afterwards. “At some point, It might be better just to have some votes.”

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