Spotlight on House After Senate Failure to Pass DACA Fix

White House puts pressure on House Republicans to advance conservative bill

Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., conducts his weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on February 15, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., conducts his weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on February 15, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 21, 2018 at 5:03am

The Senate’s failure to advance immigration legislation last week took some pressure off House Republican leaders whose members wanted to ensure their chamber would offer a conservative counterproposal rather than just accept whatever the Senate produced.

But the White House — blamed by Democrats for killing a bipartisan Senate measure they believe could have cleared a 60-vote threshold without administration interference — is trying to keep the heat on the House.

President Donald Trump in September announced the termination of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which shelters from deportation roughly 700,000 “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Trump provided a March 5 end date for the program to give Congress enough time to come up with a legislative solution for DACA. But lawmakers have struggled to find a compromise acceptable to both parties.

With court rulings blocking Trump’s executive order from taking effect, Republican leaders appear ready to let the DACA issue slip past March 5, although Speaker Paul D. Ryan said he would like to address it by the end of March.

The Senate rejected three different DACA proposals Thursday, with one based on Trump’s immigration framework receiving the least votes. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement blaming Democrats for filibustering the Trump plan and said the administration will continue to push for a bill that adheres to its four pillars.

“The Administration will continue advocating for an immigration package that includes border security, ending chain migration, cancelling the visa lottery, and a reasonable DACA solution — a proposal Americans support overwhelmingly,” she said.

“The next step will be for the House to continue advancing the proposal from [Judiciary] Chairman [Robert W.] Goodlatte and [Homeland Security] Chairman [Michael] McCaul,” Sanders added.

The Goodlatte-McCaul legislation is the only House proposal that has Trump’s support, and thus the only one that Ryan would be willing to bring to the floor. The Wisconsin Republican has said he will not allow a vote on a bill that risks a presidential veto. 

Watch: How The Senate Immigration Debate Stalled

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Votes short

But there are not yet enough votes to advance the Goodlatte-McCaul measure through the House. No Democrats support it, and many moderate Republicans are opposed or have concerns.

The bigger problem is that even if the House were to pass the Goodlatte-McCaul bill, it would have no chance of passing the Senate, whose next move on DACA is unclear. Some senators are talking about codifying a short-term extension of the program with border wall funding through the same time period, while others are pushing a long-term fix focused on those two priorities.

The White House has said Trump would oppose any  short-term “BandAid” approach, as well as any measure that falls short of its four pillars, making the Goodlatte-McCaul measure the only one in play that meets the administration’s specifications.

The bill is more conservative than Trump’s framework, especially in how it would address the status of Dreamers.

The president proposed a special pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers, including those who are not enrolled in DACA. The Goodlatte-McCaul legislation would provide a three-year renewable status for the roughly 700,000 DACA recipients and allow them to use existing paths to obtain a green card.

“The president kind of got over his skis with the 1.8 million thing,” House Freedom Caucus member Dave Brat said. But the Virginia Republican suggested Trump’s framework tried to provide an olive branch to the Democrats.

“When Trump came down the escalator, it was going to be tens of millions deported,” Brat said. “Now you’ve got Republicans doing a DACA deal for folks that are illegal to give them a legal status. I’d call that a pretty good compromise.”

Since the Goodlatte-McCaul bill was introduced in January, rank-and-file conservatives who support it have been pressuring their leadership to ready it for a floor vote. GOP leaders have said they would only bring the bill up if it can pass, and a whip check conducted last Wednesday showed the votes aren’t yet there.

Freedom Caucus members suggest leadership isn’t truly whipping support for the measure and say that if it put the same level of input as it did for the health care and tax bills last year the votes would materialize. They fired fresh warning shots to Ryan last week suggesting his speakership could be in danger if he brought an immigration bill to the floor that went against what Trump and conservatives campaigned on in 2016.

Watch: Ryan — I Don’t Want to Risk a Veto On Immigration Bill That Trump Doesn’t Support

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‘Futile effort’

Leadership has signaled it will continue whipping support for the Goodlatte-McCaul bill and the authors are exploring further changes to win over holdouts, but some members are questioning the point of that effort.

“I don’t think there’s a chance to pass a Republican-only immigration bill out of the House,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group.

The Pennsylvania Republican also said there was a “less than zero percent chance” a partisan GOP measure could pass the Senate.

The only reason for the House to pass a partisan bill is to provide political cover for members who will vote against any final bipartisan compromise, Dent said. “And that really pisses me off.”

The Goodlatte-McCaul bill is not a “viable vehicle to get us to the finish line,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said, suggesting it would be better for the House to move onto something that is.

“To spend time on something that’s a futile effort when we have very little time, to me, doesn’t sound like a good effort,” the Florida Republican said.

Among the many issues Diaz-Balart has with the Goodlatte-McCaul is that it is much more expansive than the four pillars Trump has said must be addressed.

The bill would authorize the Department of Justice to withhold grants from sanctuary cities, require employers to use the E-Verify program to check employees’ immigration status and create an agricultural guest worker program.

Many lawmakers have raised concerns about the guest worker program, saying it could take away jobs from U.S. workers.

“Potato growers are opposed to it. Dairy industries are opposed to it,” Rep. Mike Simpson said of concerns he’s hearing from Idaho constituents.

House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway said he’s worked with Goodlatte on the bill and that the guest worker program is about transitioning the existing workforce to a legal status. The Texas Republican, who supports the measure, said more and more members have gotten on board but it remains “a work in progress” with additional changes expected.

“All the Ag guys I’m talking to are reasonably leaning into it, trying to get to a ‘yes,’” Conaway said.

Some members like New York Rep. John Katko, another Tuesday Group co-chairman, said they still have concerns but were withholding final judgment since the bill was still being refined.

‘I’m not happy’

Democrats, meanwhile, would like the GOP to abandon the partisan Goodlatte-McCaul bill and bring up a bipartisan bill by Texas Republican Will Hurd and California Democrat Pete Aguilar that they believe can pass the House. But Trump doesn’t support the bill, a Senate version of which was among the proposals that chamber rejected Thursday.

“The less productive options like Goodlatte seem to not die, and to me that’s very troubling,” said Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “If it’s not gone, I’m not happy. Because for me, it’s a temporary [fix], doesn’t do the right thing by Dreamers and creates cuts to legal immigration.“

The New Mexico Democrat and her caucus have been pushing for a more narrow solution that just addresses DACA and border security, but Trump and White House officials continue to insist on their four pillars.

Lujan Grisham and Democratic leaders are also not happy that Ryan is suggesting Congress can wait until the end of March to address DACA.

“Anyone who says that we have until the end of March doesn’t really understand the gravity of the situation or ignores [it],” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

“For the speaker to say this could go to … the end of March means he doesn’t know the fear that they have instilled into the families and into the hearts of these children,” the California Democrat said.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley said Ryan “will look for any excuse not to take up a DACA bill,” adding that a failure to address the issue will ultimately be on him and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “It will be all on them.”

Watch: Pelosi Asks For Action on Immigration

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