GOP immigration moderates seek to force House votes on issue

Written by Alan Fram/Associated Press | May 9, 2018 5:41 PM

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., left, speaks next to Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., and Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, during a news conference with House Republicans who are collecting signatures on a petition to force House votes on immigration legislation, Wednesday, May 9, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(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 backing President Donald Trump's hard-line views on the issue and more pragmatic Republicans.

The rebellious lawmakers are pushing 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.

"We feel very importantly that this has got to happen now, and we're willing to drive that vote," said one of the leading proponents, 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.

"The speaker is a very respectful person," Curbelo said. "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 votes in the House.

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 on Wednesday seemed to have momentum in their favor.

A group of them filed a petition 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.

Of the four 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.

By early Wednesday afternoon, 15 Republicans had signed on and virtually all 193 Democrats were expected to add their names. The sponsors would need to get to 218 votes to prevail.

Denham said he told Ryan that he had the backing he needs. Under House rules, the earliest the chamber would vote on the group's proposal is late June.

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."

Denham introduced his proposal in March and has 248 co-sponsors, including virtually all Democrats and more than 50 Republicans. Ryan could well persuade some Republicans to not sign the petition, but Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, said in a brief interview that he expected Democrats to sign on.

Democrats have pushed this year to protect from deportation hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who have been shielded by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. That program lets immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children stay in the country for two-year, renewable periods.

Trump ended DACA, created under President Barack Obama, in March, though federal judges have kept it functioning during legal battles expected to last months.

A conservative House bill would let DACA recipients stay in the U.S. temporarily but would also reduce legal immigration, allow construction of Trump's proposed border wall with Mexico and crack down on sanctuary cities that don't cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

The liberal DREAM Act -- Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors -- would give the young immigrants, commonly known as "Dreamers," a chance at citizenship.

The bipartisan compromise by Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., would offer a way for "Dreamers"to remain in the U.S. legally but would not offer citizenship. It would take steps toward toughening border security but would not specifically authorize Trump's wall.

For the fourth bill, Ryan could offer any plan he wants.

Under the procedure the moderates are using, the bill that passes with the most votes would prevail.

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