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Ryan Tries to Thread the Needle on DACA Solution

Speaker calls immigration measure by Rep. Bob Goodlatte ‘a good bill’

Speaker Paul D. Ryan conducts his weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Paul D. Ryan conducts his weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 4:22 p.m. | An immigration deal to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation will be bipartisan, Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Thursday. But the Wisconsin Republican left the door open to voting on a bill that is not expected to draw Democratic support. 

Many House Republicans are pushing for a floor vote on legislation introduced Wednesday by House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte that Democrats have panned.

The measure would authorize construction of a wall along the southern border, eliminate the visa lottery and green card program for extended family members, and decrease overall immigration levels by about 25 percent per year. The bill would also provide three-year renewable legal status for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, who were brought to the country illegally as children. But it would not create a special path to permanent legal status or citizenship for them. 

“It’s a good bill,” Ryan said. But asked if he would bring it to the floor, the speaker said, “We’re working on that.”

Watch: Ryan, Pelosi Disagree on DACA Solution

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Asked how he could both predict a bipartisan DACA solution and consider voting on the Goodlatte measure when Democrats oppose it, Ryan said, “I don’t know if all Democrats are opposed to that.”

“The Goodlatte bill is a DACA solution,” he said. “The Goodlatte bill brings peace of mind to the DACA kids, and it also shows, ‘Here’s what the security piece looks like.’ That is constructive. The Goodlatte bill doesn’t say don’t help DACA kids. … It says here’s one way to solve this problem.”

A ‘nonstarter’?

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats do not support the Goodlatte bill, and that “it has no prospect for success” because a majority of Republicans don’t even support it. She called it “a little dance” the GOP is doing to appease its conservative members. 

“It doesn’t share any of the values that we’ve been talking about all along,” the California Democrat said. “It’s a nonstarter. I wouldn’t waste my time on it.”

Ryan may need to allow a vote on the Goodlatte bill to appease his largely conservative conference, which is full of immigration hard-liners. Passing it without Democratic support could help strengthen the GOP position in bipartisan, bicameral negotiations. 

“Anything we can do to pass, to advance these causes and issues, I think, is helpful and constructive to getting a bipartisan agreement that’s going to happen,” the speaker said. 

But Ryan offered clues that the Goodlatte bill is not something that could pass both chambers and get to President Donald Trump’s desk, such as his repeated use of the word “constructive” in describing it. 

Separate bipartisan negotiations are underway, led by the No. 2 congressional leaders — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin

“I’m confident that we’ll get a solution before too long,” Ryan said, referring to those talks. 

Pelosi was critical of the negotiations between the No. 2 congressional leaders and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, calling them “the five white guysÆ and joking about them opening a hamburger stand — an apparent reference to the Five Guys burger chain.

“That could have been done four months ago,” she said. “The very idea that this week they’re saying, ‘Oh why don’t we get four white guys and General Kelly to come and do this.’ You have to understand, in our caucus we are blessed with great diversity, understanding of the issues, the ability to translate policy into the lives of people. The sensitivity even on the wording is really important for people who have been engaged in these issues to be there at the table. And they’ve been working on it in a bipartisan way for a long time.

“To ignore all that and say, ‘Well, four of us are going to go in a room with General Kelly and we’ll come up with something.’ Well, they could’ve done that four months ago,” Pelosi added. “Why now, except perhaps to delay. I don’t know. But there is plenty of other bipartisan activity going on that gives me hope that we’re pretty close.”

Ryan predicted a DACA deal would ultimately be bipartisan.

“I think we’ll be able to put together a DACA compromise that has the majority support of our party,” Ryan said.  

Pelosi was also optimistic about a DACA deal, noting she expects one by the Jan. 19 government funding deadline. 

“We have to have a deal in hand. … And people are on a good course to get it done,” she said. 

Pelosi was critical of another continuing resolution without a DACA deal.

“There’s no point in having another CR unless we have an agreement on DACA,” Pelosi said, saying spending levels and disaster aid also need to be part of that.

The votes

Goodlatte briefed the Republican Study Committee on his measure Wednesday. The RSC will be taking an official position in support of the bill and pushing leadership to bring it up on the floor, RSC Chairman Mark Walker said.

“I think we’re going to be close,” the North Carolina Republican said about the GOP whip count. “I would say we’re over 200. I can’t sit here and tell you that we’ve got 218 but I think we’re in the ballpark.”

Leadership has not committed to bringing it up but Walker said he’s hopeful they will. Rep. Raul Labrador, who worked with Goodlatte and Reps. Michael McCaul and Martha McSally to draft the bill, said he’s personally urged that.

“The only response I’ve received is, ‘Do we have 218 votes?’” the Idaho Republican said. “And my response to them is, ‘Did you have 218 votes when you did your health care bill? Did you have 218 votes when you introduced your tax bill?’ You didn’t. So their job now is to help us with the conference to make sure this happens. This is the only thing that could unify the Republican conference.”

Walker disagreed with the Goodlatte bill being the only proposal that could unify the GOP conference. He said something providing a more permanent option for legal status rather than the three-year renewal for DACA recipients proposed in the Goodlatte bill could probably muster support.

“I think there’s a lot more flexibility on this than what people had first anticipated, even on the Republicans’ part. They want to resolve this. But I think that citizenship versus legalization is the sticking point for us.”

Labrador, Judiciary’s immigration subcommittee chairman, said the three-year renewal for DACA recipients is “generous” in that allows them to stay in the country.

“What they should have done as responsible adults is when they turned 18, they should’ve left the country,” the Freedom Caucus member said. “They didn’t come here through any fault of their own but they should’ve left the country when they became adults. They didn’t. Once they became adults they start accruing unlawful presence in the United States.”

The bill GOP members proposed is a compromise with Democrats because it allows DACA recipients to stay in the United States in exchange for broader immigration policy changes that would prevent the same circumstances from happening again, Labrador said.

Even that tradeoff is too much for some House Republicans.

“I think they’re on the right path,” Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs said. “My problem with it is I think we should be building the wall first. I think the White House said earlier this week we could build it in a year. I said, ‘Ok, let’s build the wall first, then let’s revisit everything else.”

While Biggs said he’d be open to a temporary DACA extension while the wall is being built he’s generally not supportive of the program.

“I just don’t like amnesty for any reason. I really struggle with that,” the Freedom Caucus member said. “And to be honest with you, I’ve never talked to DACA recipients who want DACA. They all want the DREAM Act.”

The DREAM Act would provide young undocumented immigrants a long-term path to citizenship, whereas DACA only provides them with temporary renewable work permits.

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