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GOP Leaders Float Alternative to Immigration Discharge Petition

Denham says discharge petition supporters working with leadership but have the signatures

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis.,and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., are working on an immigration plan with President Donald Trump they hope will stop a discharge petition moderate Republicans are pushing. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis.,and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., are working on an immigration plan with President Donald Trump they hope will stop a discharge petition moderate Republicans are pushing. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 7:35 p.m. | House Republican leaders and the conservative rank and file are desperately trying to kill a discharge petition that would trigger a series of immigration votes, likely resulting in House passage of a bill carried mostly by Democrats.

Moderate Republicans say they have enough support to force a vote on a “queen of the hill” rule that would set up votes on four different immigration bills, with the one receiving the most support above the required simple majority threshold advancing. But not all the members whose support they’re counting on have signed on to the discharge petition yet, partly because GOP leaders insist they’ll have an alternative solution.

“I am confident we have the number we need now, but we’re continuing to work with leadership on this issue,” Rep. Jeff Denham said.

The California Republican said he and his colleagues have “more than enough” members prepared to sign the discharge petition, which needs 218 signatures to force a vote.  He declined to say when all those members would sign the document — 20 Republicans and two Democrats had signed as of press time — but noted he expected more to sign this week.

Some Republicans appear willing to give their leaders more time to work on their alternative solution to replacing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shelters young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.

Speaker Paul  D. Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy met with President Donald Trump on Tuesday to talk about an immigration plan he could sign and that ideally some Democrats could support.

“We want to advance something that has a chance going into law, where the president would support it,” Ryan said.

The Wisconsin Republican said discharge petitions were “a big mistake” that “dis-unify” the majority.

Watch: Ryan: Gambit to Bring Immigration Bills to Floor Is ‘Big Mistake’

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“Our members of our majority fall into different camps,” he said. “And they want a solution on DACA and they want a solution on the border and on security issues. We want to accommodate all of that.”

Leadership suggested during a Republican Conference meeting Wednesday that they have a new plan to deal with the disparate views on immigration but did not say when they’d reveal it, Rep. Mark Sanford said.

“They alluded to some magic formula,” the South Carolina Republican said.

Texas GOP Rep. Joe L. Barton said leadership didn’t provide a specific timeline or plan.

“But every one of them looked me in the eye and said they planned to bring a bill to the floor,” he said.

Denham said that to stop the discharge petition, GOP leaders would have to offer a bill that can get through the House and Senate, something he noted they’ve been unable to do so far.

Kill the discharge petition?

While Ryan and McCarthy work with Trump on a new plan, some conservatives are pushing for a vote on a hard-line immigration bill by House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte. An unspecified number of Freedom House Caucus members are offering their support on the farm bill in exchange for a vote on the Goodlatte measure and appear to have the leverage to do so given opposition by GOP moderates and Democrats to the farm bill.

Since the discharge petition used the Goodlatte bill as a vehicle for the queen of the hill rule, a vote on that measure would effectively kill the petition.

Denham suggested moderates could prevent that by voting against a rule to bring the Goodlatte bill to the floor if leadership were to try to move the measure by itself.

“I could not support a rule that only brings up the Goodlatte bill and I think there are others in my case,” he said.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said he’s never known Denham to vote against a rule but acknowledged that if he convinced enough Republicans to do so, they could block a vote on the Goodlatte bill. But Meadows has a Plan B.

“There is one other procedural move that I’m not sharing,” the North Carolina Republican said.

McCarthy said the Freedom Caucus strategy is in line with something he stressed to the GOP conference Wednesday — that a discharge petition is not a good approach.

“You don’t sign a discharge petition and turn the power of the floor over,” the California Republican said. “We sit back and we work.”

Regarding the Goodlatte bill specifically, McCarthy said it has yet to be advanced out of committee, noting that would be the first step.

“I know they’ve been working on making changes to that so it could pass on the floor as well,” he said.

McCarthy, however, suggested a vote may be possible on the Goodlatte bill or some other measure even if it couldn’t pass.

“If you listen to [the] conference, they’d like to have a bill on the floor regardless,” he said.

Leadership meetings

House GOP leaders met late Wednesday afternoon with some of the moderate Republicans leading the discharge petition, including Denham, Michigan Rep. Fred Upton and Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo. The leaders then separately met with Meadows and Freedom Caucus members Jim Jordan of Ohio and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania. All parties reported progress on immigration talks but said no agreements had yet been reached.

Upton rejected leadership’s argument that a discharge petition gives power to the minority, considering the queen of the hill rule gives Ryan the ability to offer one of the four bills.

“It takes away the argument that the majority loses control of the floor because the speaker is allowed to bring up whatever bill he wants — the president’s bill, a modified bill,” he said.

But GOP leaders and conservatives know that the queen of the hill process is designed to favor a bipartisan bill that only a few dozen moderate Republicans and virtually all Democrats favor.

“It’s designed to pass legislation that is not consistent with the mandate with the election,” Jordan said, arguing that the 2016 election in which Republicans won the White House and retained both chambers of Congress meant conservative immigration policies should prevail.

Even Democrats acknowledge that the queen of the hill process would produce an outcome they favor.

“We believe that this bipartisan bill that the members have put together … is the bill that would win,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, referring to a measure by Texas Republican Will Hurd and California Democrat Pete Aguilar.  She rejected Republicans’ contention that Trump would veto that bill.

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