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Immigration Discharge Petition Deadline Arrives

3 remaining signatures expected to be added Tuesday, but negotiations on alternative measure to continue

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., says an immigration discharge petition will get to the required 218 signatures without an agreement on separate immigration legislation House Republicans can pass. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., says an immigration discharge petition will get to the required 218 signatures without an agreement on separate immigration legislation House Republicans can pass. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The immigration discharge petition signature deadline has arrived. All signs point to the petition reaching the required 218 signatures by the end of the day, but negotiations are continuing in an effort to block it from forcing a vote.

The discharge petition, led by moderate Republicans, is designed to bypass House leadership and force a floor vote on a series of controversial immigration bills to protect so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. 

The petition is on a “queen of the hill” rule that would set up votes on four immigration measures, with the one receiving the most votes above a simple majority prevailing. It currently has 215 signatures, just three short of what’s needed to force a floor vote June 25.

Watch: What Is a Discharge Petition Anyway?

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Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Florida filed the discharge petition, and Jeff Denham of California authored the queen of the hill rule. They have been negotiating with GOP leaders and some of their conservative colleagues to see if they can come up with a Republican immigration compromise the House could vote on instead of the queen of the hill rule, which is expected to produce legislation supported primarily by Democrats.

The group of negotiators has been making progress on some key issues, but still had many yet to work through after their most recent meeting Friday. The negotiators will meet again Tuesday afternoon, but they’re not expected to have a deal to announce at that point. 

Without a written agreement on legislation that can pass the House, Denham made clear that the discharge petition will get the final three signatures needed to reach the threshold. He told reporters after the Friday meeting that it was “extremely likely” the remaining signatures would be added Tuesday.

“I will be strongly encouraging members on Tuesday to sign the final signatures unless we have a written agreement,” Denham said.

Denham has said for weeks that he has more than enough Republicans prepared to sign the discharge petition to get to 218. While he’s held those members back from signing as the negotiations progressed, he named Tuesday as the deadline for an agreement to block the discharge petition from being activated.

Under House rules, a discharge petition takes seven legislative days to ripen once the signature threshold is reached before it can be called up for a vote on the following second or fourth Monday of the month.

Tuesday is the last day for Denham and the discharge petition supporters to complete the signature process if they want to force the queen of the hill vote on June 25. Otherwise, the next relevant Monday the House is in session to consider it is July 23. 

Final three

With Denham signaling there are more than three members prepared to sign the petition, it’s not exactly clear which members will be the ones to push it over the threshold. But speculation about potential signatories had included Republicans Dennis A. Ross of Florida and Dan Newhouse of Washington and Democrat Henry Cuellar of Texas. 

Cuellar is the only House Democrat who has not yet signed the petition. He suggested Friday that he would sign on Tuesday, saying he supports Dreamers but is trying to press Democratic leaders to fight against funding for a southern border wall in appropriations legislation the same way they’ve been fighting for Dreamers with the discharge petition.

“I already know what I would do, but I just want to make sure that they understand that there’s some of us that live on the border, understand the border … and we want to be passionate — quite a little bit more — on the wall,” he said.

In a statement Monday clarifying his position, Cuellar said he’d sign only if two more Republicans do, which would make his signature the 218th. 

“I’ve been asking Democratic leadership to stand strong and fight hard against the border wall. As I’ve said in the past, there are more cost-effective ways to secure our border then by implementing a senseless, concrete wall,” he said. “My Republican colleagues need to get two additional signatures in order to bring this to a vote. If they are able to do so, then I will consider signing on to the petition.”

Ross told reporters Thursday he would likely sign the discharge petition unless leadership were to schedule a floor vote on legislation to create a guest worker program for the agricultural, construction and service industries.

“If I get a date certain on a commitment publicly that we’re going to take up an adequate guest worker program on the floor, you won’t see me [sign],” he said. “You can get me out of the discharge petition consideration.”

But Ross has now informed his colleagues he is not planning to sign the discharge petition after receiving a commitment from GOP leaders that they will move an immigration bill that includes “a strong guest worker program that supports the Florida and national economy; robust increases in border security and enforcement; and a solution for DACA recipients, among other items,” his chief of staff Kyle Glenn said in an e-mail.

House Majority WhipSteve Scalise, speaking at a Politico Playbook event Tuesday morning, cited Ross’s decision as a reason he is hopeful the discharge petition would not get to 218 signatures later that evening.

Newhouse told HuffPost last week that he wanted to see action by Tuesday or he’d sign the petition.

Negotiations to continue

Getting to 218 signatures won’t put a halt to the Republicans’ negotiations on an alternative immigration bill. They can and are expected to negotiate up until June 25 to see if they can reach agreement within their party. 

If they do reach such a deal, it would include a procedural mechanism for turning the discharge petition off or otherwise circumventing it. 

“Our new deadline is not to have a deadline but to work with our members to get things done and avoid a discharge petition,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan told reporters Thursday. 

But the Wisconsin Republican is not oblivious to the June 25 date and how it’s guiding member talks. 

“Obviously, time is of the essence,” Ryan said. “We’re not talking about delaying anything. Time is of the essence if we want to have a legislative process that we can control, which means a shot at law versus what I could call a futile gesture of a discharge petition.”

Dean DeChiaro contributed to this report.

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