Eighteen GOP members signed a petition to force an immigration debate in the House but Paul Ryan said it would only produce legislative ‘show ponies’
A renegade group of centrist Republicans in Congress are maneuvering around their leadership in an effort to introduce immigration reforms to secure legal protections for young, undocumented people in the United States.
The Republican-led effort follows a failure of Congress to act on immigration reform after Donald Trump cancelled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca), an Obama-era program that extended protections from deportation to nearly 700,000 immigrants brought to the US as children.
Federal courts have ordered the administration to temporarily continue the program while the legal challenges to Trump’s decision move forward. The court rulings removed almost all urgency in Congress to act on immigration.
The House speaker, Paul Ryan, said the effort would only produce legislative “show ponies” that would be simply wiped out by the president’s veto.
But Ryan did say he wants to see a bipartisan immigration bill pass the House before the November midterm elections that would provide certainty for the so-called Dreamers.
“Going down a path and having some kind of a spectacle on the floor that just results in a veto doesn’t solve a problem,” he told reporters during a press conference on Thursday.
“We actually would like to solve this problem and that is why I think it’s important for us to come up with a solution that the president can support.”
(August 16, 2015)
Upon announcing his presidential bid Donald Trump makes hardline immigration reform central to his campaign and pledges to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca).
“I will immediately terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration,” he says.
(December 7, 2016)
Weeks after winning the White House, President-elect Trump appears to soften his stance on Dreamers. Despite offering no specific policy he promises to “work something out”.
“On a humanitarian basis it’s a very tough situation.” he tells Time magazine.
(February 16, 2017)
Trump acknowledges the fraught road to a solution, describing Daca as a “very difficult thing for me as I love these kids”.
“I have to deal with a lot of politicians,” Trump says. “And I have to convince them that what I’m saying is right.”
(February 5, 2017)
Trump abruptly announces he will end Daca, phasing out applications for renewal by March 2018. The president insists the decision provides a “window of opportunity for Congress to finally act”.
(September 14, 2017)
Following talks with Democrats, Trump hints a deal may be close, but suggests it wouldn’t include a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.
“We’re not looking at citizenship. We’re not looking at amnesty,” Trump tells reporters.
(January 9, 2018)
Trump promises to “take the heat” for a bipartisan Daca bill being brokered by senators. But within days he revokes his support, calling the bipartisan plan “a big step backwards”. The US government shuts down after negotiations over the budget and a Dreamers solution collapse. On the same day a district judge rules the administration must keep the program open to new applications, a ruling that is later supported by other federal court decisions.
(January 24, 2018)
With the government reopened with a temporary bill, Trump tells reporters he is now open to a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers “over a period of 10-12 years” if the individual “does a great job, they work hard”.
(April 1, 2018)
Trump appears to end the possibility of a bipartisan deal over Daca with a series of furious tweets on Easter Sunday. He blames Democrats and declares: "NO MORE DACA DEAL!"
As of Thursday afternoon, 18 Republicans had signed a discharge petition filed by Carlos Curbelo, a Republican congressman from Florida, to force an immigration debate on the House floor.
A handful of vulnerable Republicans running for re-election in swing districts are facing fierce pressure to support immigration reform. Almost all of the Republican signatories represent large Latino constituencies, are in districts Democrats are targeting in the 2018 midterms, or are retiring at the end of their term.
If the petition is signed by a majority of House members, the petition has the power to trigger votes on a suite of immigration bills following a so-called “queen-of-the-hill” rule. That means the bill with the most support above a majority would pass the House.
“The message from the … House Republicans that so far have signed the discharge petition is that we want action,” Curbelo said on CNN’s New Day on Thursday. “The president was right to call on Congress to act and that we find it unacceptable many months later, the House has done absolutely nothing. Our patience has run out.”
Discharge petitions are relatively unusual because members of the majority party are usually wary of sidestepping their leadership.
Curbelo, who is the son of Cuban immigrants, conceded that the petition was an “aggressive legislative maneuver” and called the process “historic”. But he argued that the petition was written in a way to “empower” leadership, arguing that the speaker can use the opportunity to offer his own immigration legislation.
The process would allow votes on four immigration proposals. Those include a conservative bill that would offer a limited path to citizenship for Daca recipients while imposing limits on legal immigration and new restrictions on hiring; a bipartisan solution that would pair a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers with border security measures; a Dream Act, which would codify the Daca program; and a placeholder bill of Ryan’s choosing.
If a bill were to secure enough support to pass the House, it would still have to pass the Senate – and then be signed by President Trump. Earlier this year, the Senate failed to advance several immigration bills, including one that had the White House’s support.
Meanwhile, the White House remains an unpredictable factor in the negotiations. During the height of the immigration debate, Trump sent mixed signals to Congress about what he wanted.
He both called for a generous “bill of love” while saying he would only sign a bill that included unpopular measures, such as restricting legal immigration, that Democrats and some Republicans rejected entirely.
“We laid out several months ago what we wanted to see happen,” Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, said when asked about the petition on Wednesday. “We’d still like to see that happen, and we’d love to see a piece of legislation that includes all four of the principles and the pillars that the president outlined.”
If all 193 Democrats join their effort, which is plausible, the Republicans would need to sway seven more members of their caucus to reach the required 218 signatures.
However, while some Republicans in Democratic-targeted districts are under pressure to act on immigration reform, many Republicans will be reluctant to vote on a series of controversial bills in an election year.
Meanwhile, Senator Jeff Flake, the retiring Arizona Republican, was once again blocked in his attempt to pass a temporary fix for Dreamers that would extend their protections for three years in return for three years of funding for the administration’s border security plan, which includes a wall.
“The recent action by some of our colleagues in the House has once again raised the issue of immigration and border security,” Flake said on the floor on Thursday. “I am the first to admit this solution is far from perfect, but it offers a temporary fix to these crucial issues.” He added: “To put it as bluntly as possible, this simply is not something we are allowed to ignore.”