The House GOP Still Can’t Figure Out What It Wants on Immigration

Paul Ryan and House Republicans are back to square one yet again on passing immigration legislation. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

To hear the buildup over it, you’d think today’s special, super-duper all-hands-on-deck meeting of House Republicans over immigration policy was the legislative equivalent of the Nicene Council: a moment of truth in which Republicans would be forced, somehow, to come to grips with their internal differences and chart a course to the actual passage of an actual bill after years of inaction.

But then nothing happened, as Roll Call reports:

House Republicans spent two hours Thursday morning talking through their differences on immigration but left the pivotal meeting no closer to a legislative solution.

Indeed, Paul Ryan apparently ran the meeting like some sort of beginners’ seminar — if the textbook were written in crayon by the president, that is:

The speaker then walked through the four pillars of an immigration deal President Donald Trump laid out earlier this year and how the negotiators have discussed possibly addressing them.

Trump’s four pillars involve beefing up border security with a physical wall, protecting “Dreamers” brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, reducing family-sponsored visas and ending the Diversity Visa lottery program.

Ryan presented the four pillars as a starting point and said that if there’s a resolution it might be a week or so before legislative text is ready to be unveiled, White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short told reporters after he left the meeting.

The president’s “four pillars” framework, of course, was encapsulated in a bill that only attracted 39 votes — 21 votes short of what was needed for passage — in the Senate earlier this year. So even if House Republicans can somehow put together a bill based on the president’s proposal that can get to a majority in the House, it’s going nowhere, which is yet another indication that this whole exercise is symbolic.

What is forcing all this fruitless agonizing is an imminent threat by a handful of politically vulnerable House Republicans led by California’s Jeff Denham (who at last count won only 38 percent of the vote in this week’s primary, and will face a serious Democratic challenge in November) and Florida’s Carlos Curbelo to combine with Democrats to force a series of floor votes on immigration via the arcane procedure of a discharge petition — a very, very rarely used device where a majority of House members can at any time compel a vote no matter what the House leadership wants.

The rebels have 215 signatures on their petition, and claim to have the three additional participants in their effort ready to roll if the leadership doesn’t come up with some alternative path to votes that accommodate their own desire to create a path to citizenship for Dreamers. It is universally believed that the Denham-Curbelo plan would lead to passage of a bill backed by all or nearly all Democrats and a handful of Republicans, which is a gigantic no-no in the view of the leadership and the conservatives who favor an approach closer to Trump’s. And even if such a bill got through the Senate, there’s little doubt Trump would veto it. Again: This is mostly symbolism.

There’s considerable confusion about what, exactly, will happen next after today’s failure to break new ground, as Politico reports:

[I]t was not immediately clear if the moderates would move ahead and collect the final signatures needed to force a series of floor votes on DACA, as they’ve vowed to do for weeks. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told reporters while exiting the meeting that moderates agreed to pause their effort to work with leadership and conservatives to find a solution.

However, one moderate source close to the petition push said that was not the case. And those parties have been vowing to work together to find a solution like that for months, to no avail — meaning nothing has changed.

Most of the talk has been over efforts to find some magic formula to overcome the deep division between Democrats and GOP “moderates” who want citizenship for Dreamers on the table and conservatives who point and scream “Amnesty!” at the very idea. But as Ryan’s presentation today indicates, differences extend to other inflammatory topics the president keeps raising, including the Wall and restrictions in legal immigration. So it’s unclear what these House negotiations are supposed to accomplish other than kicking the can down the road and perhaps increasing pressure on the GOP rebels to call the whole thing off. Yes, there will continue to be happy talk, but the GOP’s underlying divisions and the dynamics of both the House (with its informal Hastert Rule against votes on bills a majority of the majority opposes) and Senate (where 60 votes are needed on all major legislation) — all complicated by Trump’s unpredictability and probable desire to use immigration as a base-motivator for November and for 2020 — make enactment of anything extremely improbable. As Roll Call noted, there wasn’t that much to be said for progress in today’s session:

Nobody cursed at each other during the meeting as has been known to happen on occasion, Rep. Joe L. Barton said.

With that and few bucks, you can buy a pretty good cup of coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts in the basement of the Longworth House Office Building.

The House GOP Still Can’t Come to a Consensus on Immigration