GOP immigration moderates seek to force House votes on issue

Published 7:53 am Thursday, May 10, 2018

WASHINGTON — Republicans with moderate views on immigration defied party leaders and took steps Wednesday toward forcing campaign-season House votes on the issue. One top maverick said they had enough support to succeed.

The effort meant that a congressional drive to help young “Dreamer” immigrants that seemed to have lost steam earlier this year could be resurrected in the run-up to November’s elections for House and Senate control. That could spell fresh headaches for GOP leaders, whose party is divided between backers of President Donald Trump’s hard-line views and more pragmatic members.

The rebellious lawmakers want the House to vote in June on four bills including a bipartisan compromise, a conservative proposal and a liberal plan. Many of the legislators demanding action face potentially competitive re-election races in congressional districts with large numbers of Hispanic, suburban or agriculture-industry voters with pro-immigration views.

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“We feel very importantly that this has got to happen now, and we’re willing to drive that vote,” said one leading proponent, Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif.

Denham and another leader of the effort, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., met with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who has opposed their effort. Denham said he told Ryan his group has enough backing to prevail.

“The speaker is a very respectful person,” Curbelo said of how Ryan responded. “He does not threaten people, at least not that I’m aware of. He just told us that he didn’t think this was the best way to proceed.”

Earlier this year, competing bills aimed at protecting young immigrants and toughening border security collapsed in the Senate, including one backed by Trump. The measures never received House votes.

Both parties had seemed ready to turn the battle into a campaign issue, with Democrats accusing GOP candidates of being anti-immigrant and Republicans accusing Democrats of being soft on illegal immigration.

But Republican immigration moderates wary of being politically exposed if the House abandons the issue have continued pushing leaders for votes, and they seemed to have momentum in their favor Wednesday.

Curbelo, Denham and others filed a petition Wednesday that would force votes on four immigration bills if they gained the signatures of 218 House members, a majority of the chamber’s full membership.

By late afternoon, 17 Republicans had signed on and virtually all 193 Democrats were expected to add their names. That meant at least 25 Republicans were needed to reach a total of 218.

Under House rules, the earliest the chamber would consider the moderates’ proposal for votes is late June.

Of the four immigration measures, the bipartisan compromise is considered likeliest to prevail. Ryan has tried unsuccessfully to round up enough support for the conservative alternative and has said he doesn’t want votes on immigration legislation that Trump won’t sign.

Asked about the moderates’ effort, Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said, “We continue to work with our members to find a solution that can both pass the House and get the president’s signature.”

It is possible that, rather than facing the embarrassment of a petition successfully forcing votes, Ryan would seek a compromise measure. But he’s failed to find middle ground all year.