WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning called on House Republicans to pass an immigration bill to get a “win” that would show that the GOP wants strong borders and security.
Instead of a win, Republicans ended up with an embarrassing loss.
For the second time in a week, a fractured House Republican conference failed to pass immigration legislation ― this time a so-called “compromise” bill addressing border security, legal immigration changes and protections for undocumented young people who came to the United States as children.
The bill went down 121-301, with no Democrats supporting the bill and 112 Republicans voting against the proposal as well.
The bill that failed Wednesday was the result of months of negotiations between GOP moderates and conservatives in the House ― with Democrats left out of the process entirely. Republicans also failed to pass a more conservative immigration bill last week, but that bill ― which was simply a hardline immigration measure introduced by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) back in January ― actually garnered 193 Republican votes.
Even before the “compromise” bill fell Wednesday, conservatives were touting the stronger than expected showing for the Goodlatte bill. But with the far weaker showing for the more moderate legislation, it’s an indication for many conservatives that the path forward on a Republican immigration bill is to tack even further to the right.
Either bill would have gone down in the Senate, where Republicans hold a majority but 60 votes are needed to advance legislation. The GOP “compromise” bill wasn’t particularly moderate, even if Republicans framed it that way. It included $25 billion in funding for Trump’s border wall and restrictions on types of legal immigration and asylum.
It did not, however, include mandatory E-Verify, which would require companies to check the migration status of potential hires. Leaders considered adding an amendment with E-Verify provisions in a gambit to win conservative votes, but they ultimately weren’t sure how many votes E-Verify would win over and some moderates felt uncomfortable with the far-right policy.
The “compromise” bill also included a path to citizenship for some undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children, including many recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was a key sticking point for some Republicans. The more conservative bill would have only granted temporary status to a smaller pool of DACA recipients.
After last week’s failed vote, Trump tweeted that House Republicans should give up on immigration entirely until after the midterm elections.
But he took a different tack Wednesday, tweeting that the House should pass a bill seemingly just to send a message.
“House Republicans should pass the strong but fair immigration bill, known as Goodlatte II, in their afternoon vote today, even though the Dems won’t let it pass in the Senate,” he wrote in all-caps. “Passage will show that we want strong borders & security while the Dems want open borders = crime. Win!”
After the vote, Trump downplayed the importance of the bill failing so dramatically after he had urged Republicans to vote for it. He said that since the Senate wouldn’t pass the bill anyway, he didn’t get “overly excited” about it. He also brought it back to politics, saying “strong borders” would be “a great election point” for Republicans.
“I told them a few hours ago, I said, ‘Look: pass something, or come back to something that would be a variation, but get something you want,’” he told reporters, according to a pool report. “The problem with that is that we need Democratic votes in the Senate and that’s why I don’t get overly excited with the House bill right now because it’s not going to pass in the Senate, you’re not going to get the Democrats to vote for anything. We can give them 100 percent of what they wanted, and double it, they still wouldn’t pass it.”
Trump, joined by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other Republicans, has repeatedly accused Democrats of supporting open borders, claiming ― falsely, in most cases ― that they favor total non-enforcement of the law rather than the more commonly-held position that migrant families should be put in immigration proceedings so they can remain together rather than be split up.
The president and many Republicans have argued that Congress or the courts should grant the government the ability to lock up immigrant families indefinitely ― which could result in kids being detained for months or years ― as a way to address the administration’s self-made crisis of family separations at the border. Long-term detention of immigrant families, as well as removing certain protections for unaccompanied kids and making asylum more difficult to obtain, was part of both failed House bills.
Trump signed an executive order last week that he said would halt his recent family separations, but thus far his administration is reuniting kids only if the parent agrees to be deported and drop their claim for asylum or other relief.
Late on Tuesday, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite families it separated within 30 days, and put children under the age of 5 back into the care of their parents within 14 days. The order would likely prevent the Trump administration from restarting family separations in the near future.
Some lawmakers have discussed a standalone measure to address family separations, but it’s unclear whether it has the votes to pass or support from Trump, who has also demanded wall funding and a host of other legal changes.
The extent to which the “compromise” bill failed Wednesday indicates just how far Republicans are to finding agreement within their own party. Even with Trump’s all-CAPS urging, only 121 Republicans supported Wednesday’s immigration proposal. And even if 193 Republicans voted for the more conservative Goodlatte bill last week, it’s still difficult to see how Republicans could coalesce behind one plan.
And, as Trump pointed out, Republicans would still need to get that bill through the Senate, where Democratic votes would be needed.
If there’s one silver lining for Republicans, it’s that 224 House Republicans voted for one of the two immigration proposals ― and truthfully, both bills aren’t that far apart. Much of the disagreement with the “compromise” legislation seemed to be over its branding as such, and with a conservative desire to message on this vote.
If Republicans continued pushing ahead with an immigration plan, it’s possible they could still reach a slim majority in the House.
A senior GOP aide pointed out Wednesday after the vote that part of the reason this vote failed so spectacularly was that a number of members had concerns that Trump would say he supported the bill today, “watch Fox News tonight, and blast it tomorrow,” just like he did with the omnibus earlier this year. “And they didn’t want to be on the receiving end of that kind of incoming again,” the aide said.
But if one of the silver linings for Republicans in these votes is that GOP leaders see a pathway to keep pushing on a GOP-only immigration bill, that’s also one of the failings. Again, even if Republicans miraculously passed a bill, it still couldn’t pass the Senate. And if conservatives really are emboldened by these two votes ― one in which their ideas seemed to have more traction with the conference than previously expected, and this vote where more moderate ideas had less ― then Republicans could be learning all the wrong lessons.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.