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Democrats Use Loophole to Push Discharge Petition on DREAM Act

Procedural creativity allows circumvention of 30-day rule

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer was among the Democrats who employed a procedural tool Thursday that could lead to a vote on the DREAM Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer was among the Democrats who employed a procedural tool Thursday that could lead to a vote on the DREAM Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats, led by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, used some procedural creativity Thursday in filing a resolution to discharge a bill that could ultimately lead to a vote on the so-called DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act is a measure that Democrats and some Republicans want to pass as a legislative solution to President Donald Trump’s decision to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that sheltered roughly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children from deportation.

The measure would provide certain conditions under which those covered by DACA can obtain permanent legal residential status and eventually even citizenship.

A discharge petition is a procedural tool under which members can try to bring a bill to the floor against leadership’s wishes. The tool is most often used by the minority party and it requires the signature of a majority of members to discharge a measure to the floor, so most discharge efforts are not successful. 

The problem Democrats encountered in wanting to file a discharge petition on the DREAM Act is that House rules require a bill to have been introduced for 30 legislative days, or days in session, before a resolution to discharge can be filed. 

The DREAM Act was introduced on July 26 — less than 30 legislative days ago as the House was in recess during August. 

Democrats, however, found a loophole. House rules allow for substitution of a related bill on a discharge petition once it has ripened, which takes seven legislative days. Members cannot sign the petition until after the seven-day ripening period. 

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer’s staff identified a measure called the Today’s American Dream Act, which was introduced more than 30 legislative days ago, as a related bill that they could use to substitute the DREAM Act as a germane amendment, according to a Hoyer aide.  

Democrats introduced a resolution Thursday night to discharge the Today’s American Dream Act and substitute it with the text of the DREAM Act. 

“We are asking all Members of Congress who believe it is wrong to deport young people brought to this country as children to join us in this effort,” Hoyer and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “In many cases, these DREAMers have known no other home than America. Common sense and compassion must now prevail.“ 

The discharge petition is likely to draw signatures from a large majority of Democrats — if not all.

The DREAM Act has two Republican co-sponsors, Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, who might sign on as well.

Ros-Lehtinen is retiring, so she likely wouldn’t hesitate to buck her leadership on this matter, especially given her strong pro-immigration stance. Coffman has also shown a willingness to go against his party on this issue; he introduced a bill in January to halt deportation of DACA recipients for three years. 

In this case, other Republicans who want to sign on may have some level of cover as President Donald Trump has reportedly expressed support for the DREAM Act, albeit not as a standalone measure. 

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