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More Republicans Ready to Push but Not Force Immigration Votes

Denham won’t commit to discharge petition on queen of the hill rule for DACA bills

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., center, flanked by Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., left, and Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, hold a news conference on the use of the “queen of the hill” rule for DACA legislation in the House on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., center, flanked by Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., left, and Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, hold a news conference on the use of the “queen of the hill” rule for DACA legislation in the House on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Four dozen mostly moderate Republicans have joined Democrats in their push for a “queen of the hill” rule that would set up a series of immigration votes. But the GOP congressman leading the charge is reluctant to commit to a discharge petition that could actually force his leadership to bring it to the floor.

“You shouldn’t need a discharge petition,” California Rep. Jeff Denham said. He acknowledged that backers of the rule might discuss such a petition — which if signed by a majority of the House would force leadership to call a vote. But he refused to commit to filing one if his plan to put pressure on Speaker Paul D. Ryan fails.

Denham has at least 237 Republican and Democratic co-sponsors on his rule and said “more and more are signing up every single day.”

The queen of the hill rule allows votes on multiple measures with the one receiving the most votes above the required simple majority vote threshold emerging as the House-passed bill.

Denham’s goal is to have the House debate and vote on various immigration measures that offer replacements for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shelters from deportation young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, also known as “Dreamers.”

Denham said he has at least 50 Republican co-sponsors for his resolution outlining the rule, though only has 48 listed as of Wednesday afternoon. On the other side, California Rep. Pete Aguilar offered to help gather Democratic support for Denham’s rule and said he added 190 of the 193-member Democratic Caucus to the bill Wednesday morning.

Denham and Aguilar held a press conference Wednesday to announce the growing bipartisan support for the queen of the hill rule, a strategy Democrats had been pushing since February.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and GOP Reps. Will Hurd of Texas, David Valadao of California and Mike Coffman of Colorado also attended the press conference.

“There’s a lot of things you can ignore here, but the will of the House becomes very difficult,” Denham said, expressing hope that Ryan will allow a vote on his rule.

Watch: California Governor Defends Immigration Stances Amid Trump Criticism

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Ryan rejected

Ryan has already publicly rejected the idea of using the queen of the hill procedure on immigration.

“I don’t think that’s the right way to go,” the Wisconsin Republican said during his weekly press conference last Thursday.

“We want to get legislation done in a way that we have a workable majority,” he added. “I don’t want to bring legislation that won’t get signed into law. I don’t think it makes any sense to bring a bill through or a process through that would produce a bill that will get a presidential veto. I just don’t think that that’s in anyone’s interest.”

Denham’s rule would set up votes on four measures, one each from him, Ryan, House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte and California Democrat Lucille Roybal-Allard, or their designees.

Giving Ryan one of the four measures means “he can put whatever he wants” on the floor, Denham said.

Goodlatte has authored a conservative bill that has the support of a majority of the House Republican Conference but not enough to pass the chamber. Roybal-Allard is the leading sponsor of the so-called DREAM Act. And Denham has said he’d offer the bipartisan Hurd-Aguilar bill.

Democrats have long said that the Hurd-Aguilar bill would prevail under a queen of the hill strategy, providing Ryan no incentive to move forward with the procedure since President Donald Trump opposes that measure.

“I don’t know why he would be reluctant to put up a bipartisan bill that addresses a permanent DACA fix, along with border security, but if that’s true, then that’s just the politics of not having votes on a more conservative Goodlatte bill,” Aguilar said. “We feel that the Hurd bill is a strong bill that could have significant bipartisan support and get over whatever our threshold might be, which I think is 216 at the moment.”

Denham also rejected the notion that Ryan can’t be convinced.

“What we’re showing today is the people’s House has more than enough votes to push this,” he said.

If Ryan does not relent to the pressure, then a discharge petition can be discussed “in the future, depending how long this goes,” Denham added.

In gathering co-sponsors for his rule, Denham said he whipped support from every Republican several times. He said he only talked to members about signing on to the rule, calling that the “first step.”

Co-sponsors are not an indication of how many members would support a discharge petition. Typically members of the majority party would not sign one that goes against their leadership’s wishes.