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House Conservatives Expect ‘Solid Votes’ for New Immigration Strategy (Updated)

Fleming and other conservatives who oppose Obama's immigration plan are optimistic about a new GOP strategy. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Fleming and other conservatives who oppose Obama's immigration plan are optimistic about a new GOP strategy. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:20 p.m. |  House Republicans emerged from a special conference meeting Friday with a new plan and a new tone pleasing to conservatives who have long been intent on defunding President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.  

GOP leadership laid out a strategy in which Republicans would have the opportunity to vote on a number of amendments aimed at defunding certain immigration activities: the president’s executive action, his Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program and the so-called Morton Memos, which are formal measures from former Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton that relax enforcement of certain immigration laws.  

What will be included in the amendments isn’t yet clear. But the underlying legislation would provide $39.7 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, which is currently funded until Feb. 28, for operations through the end of the fiscal year.  

The bill would not automatically block the president’s executive action; it would take an amendment — probably some amalgamation of legislative proposals from South Carolina Republican Mick Mulvaney and Alabama Republican Robert B. Aderholt — to do that.  

But that doesn’t seem to have cooled conservatives to the idea. On the contrary, the Republicans most accustomed to thwarting GOP proposals seemed pleased about the proposal.  

Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, who has openly fought against immigration proposals, called the plan “excellent” and “probably the best since I’ve been here in six years.”  

He added: “We’re going to get a very strong vote on this.”  

Conservative Republicans seemed certain their amendments would ultimately be attached to the DHS funding bill.  

“We’re going to have a very solid vote,” said Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., addding that in his four years in Congress, “the most solid votes we always have are on conservative issues.”  

Asked if he trusts leadership to whip the vote to ensure the immigration amendments were adopted, Huelskamp, who voted against Speaker John A. Boehner earlier this week, reiterated that he didn’t think there would be any problem drumming up support for the amendments.  

“They don’t have to work the votes,” Huelskamp said of leadership. “The only time they have to work the votes is when they’re working against conservative principles.”  

Even Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, one of the most outspoken critics of the GOP leadership when it comes to immigration, was upbeat Friday after participating in the strategy session — which didn’t go unnoticed by Democrats.  

“It’s disturbing that House Republican leadership discussions now include an individual who spoke to a white supremacist group and an individual who compared immigrants to dogs, and accused DREAMers of being drug smugglers and having ‘calves the size of cantaloupes,'” said Jorge Silva, an adviser to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., referring in a statement to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and King.  

Another frequent critic of GOP leadership, Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, expressed renewed optimism after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy worked with him this week to bring a “disparate” group of lawmakers to McCarthy’s office and “air out all the ideas.”  

Labrador was more than supportive of the plan to vote on a host of amendments to the DHS funding bill, though he did express concern to reporters and in the conference meeting Friday morning, that Republicans need to be mindful of the next step in the Senate.  

“We need to think about what exactly — how are we going to draw a line in the sand so that the president understands that he’s putting the nation’s national security at risk and he’s putting illegal immigration ahead of people that are here legally,” Labrador said.  

Of course, the Senate and the White House will have a say in the bill. That’s a big part of the reason Republicans seemed to be starting early on the DHS funding measure — bill text was released Friday and the measure is expected on the House floor early next week.  

“I think starting early, is to give the Senate enough time — No. 1 — to see if they get to 60, then give the president enough time to see what he wants to do, if we can get the bill to him,” Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma said.  

According to one lawmaker who asked to speak on background to discuss details of the GOP conference meeting, which are supposed to be kept private, Republicans did discuss the possibility of conferencing the legislation with the Senate.  

That possibility may become a reality as Republicans face the long odds that a bill defunding the president’s executive action would pass the Senate — or, more daunting, secure the signature of the president. According to senior Republican appropriator Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, there was a lot of uncertainty as to what the Senate would do.  

“I know what the Senate will not do,” Dent said, “and they will not do this bill.”  

“So, at some point we have to do a better job in the House of managing expectations,” Dent continued. “The expectations are now quite high about the bill under consideration, which will pass the House, but it will not be the final product that’s signed into law. So that’s the issue right now.”  

Dent said he didn’t believe Republicans were ready to face that reality today. “But they’ll have to be when the time comes,” he said.  

Either way, the future of the DHS funding bill gives House and Senate Republicans plenty to talk about when they go on a joint retreat to Hershey, Pa., next week.  

Emma Dumain and Clark Mindock contributed to this report.

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