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House Immigration Compromise Faces Dim Prospects Amid Conservative Opposition

No compelling case for Freedom Caucus members to vote for it, Meadows says

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is among the conservatives opposed to a compromise immigration bill that President Donald Trump has endorsed and that the House is expected to vote on this week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is among the conservatives opposed to a compromise immigration bill that President Donald Trump has endorsed and that the House is expected to vote on this week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A Republican immigration bill negotiated in recent weeks by cross sections of the House GOP Conference faces dim prospects for passage after several conservatives indicated opposition to the measure Tuesday.

House Republican leaders invited President Donald Trump to the Capitol on Tuesday evening to try to sell the legislation to the conference. And while Trump said he supports the compromise measure — along with one by House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte that most conservatives in the conference prefer — it does not appear to have swayed enough conservatives to ensure the bill’s passage.

The House is expected to vote on the two bills as early as Thursday. The GOP whip team started counting votes on the compromise measure Tuesday evening after the president’s visit, the results of which could influence leadership’s decision on when to schedule the votes.

The leaders of the two conservative caucuses in the House both said Trump would likely convince some conservatives to ultimately vote “yes” on the compromise, but they also expected some to remain opposed.

“I think a lot of members are willing to vote ‘yes’ if the president asked them to vote ‘yes,’” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said. “Some are probably a lot more reticent to do that based on the emotional volatility of an immigration vote.”

Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said he doesn’t necessarily know what members who have been on the fence about the bill were looking to hear from Trump, but noted, “If someone is in that position, I think they may still need a little bit more.”

Walker said he remains undecided on the bill and the RSC will go over the pros and cons of the measure during their meeting Wednesday.

Watch: Immigration, Immigration, Immigration — Talk of the Policy Separating Families Envelops Hill

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The Freedom Caucus met separately Tuesday night after Trump’s visit and discussed the compromise measure. The group did not take an official position on the bill, and Meadows wouldn’t share the level of opposition among its three dozen members. But the North Carolina Republican indicated there are many caucus members unlikely to support it.

“I don’t know that there’s such a compelling case to vote for this bill only because they’re not optimistic that it will become law,” Meadows said.  

GOP leaders have pitched the bill as something that has a shot at becoming law, despite the fact that few Democrats support it and their votes would be needed to get anything through the Senate.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise said the president supports both bills and so does he, but he acknowledged the compromise has the best chance of passing the House.

“I would imagine most members are going to approach this with a yes-yes strategy,” the Louisiana Republican said. “Some members might vote against the first [Goodlatte bill], but what we’re encouraging everybody to do is help us pass the second bill and let’s get that bill to the president’s desk so he can sign it.”

‘Not in favor of amnesty’

Still, many conservatives continue to struggle with the compromise measure providing young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers” with the opportunity to obtain a special visa by which they can apply for legal permanent residence and eventually citizenship. Outside conservative groups such as Heritage Action have decried the proposal as amnesty and are opposing the bill.

Rep. Jody B. Hice, who is both a Freedom Caucus and RSC member, said he hadn’t reviewed the bill yet, but what he’d been hearing from those who had wasn’t positive.

Why Are the Dreamers Called the Dreamers?

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“I’m not in favor of amnesty, but I’m going to go start checking it out for myself,” the Georgia Republican said.

Rep. Jim Jordan, the founding chairman of the Freedom Caucus, had largely decided he would not support the bill even before Trump made his pitch.

“I’m probably not for that,” the Ohio Republican said of the compromise plan. “I think there are lots of conservatives who are having concerns about that bill.”

Meadows wouldn’t say how he personally plans to vote, and said he didn’t tell his caucus members that either because he wants them to make up their own minds. But Jordan carries just as much influence among the group of conservative hard-liners, and his opposition suggests there are plenty more members who feel that way.

Meadows and Jordan were among the slightly more than a dozen Republicans who participated in the closed-door meetings where the compromise bill was crafted. Freedom Caucus member Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho came up with the special visa concept that forms the basis of the bill’s solution for Dreamers.

Yet none of the Freedom Caucus members involved in the negotiations were listed as authors of the bill when it was formally introduced Tuesday. One news release cited Goodlatte, House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul and moderate GOP Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Florida and Jeff Denham of California as co-authors of the bill.

“I’m a yes-yes,” Goodlatte said when asked if he prefers his original bill over the compromise measure. “I want 218 votes.”

‘Don’t like any of them’

Most members of the Freedom Caucus will likely support the orginal Goodlatte bill, as the group has long fought for a vote on it and used unrelated measures such as a government funding stopgap and the farm bill as leverage to secure such a vote.

But a handful of immigration hawks, including Rep. Paul Gosar, won’t support either bill.

“We don’t like any of them,” the Arizona Republican said, noting there’s not much Trump could’ve said to convince him. “Immigration is kind of my sacrosanct. You’ve got to do this the right way. You just can’t do this badly.”

Meadows also acknowledged the president has a limited ability to move members who have to face their constituents, many of whom have impassioned views on the subject of immigration.

“All of us recognize that we’ve got to go back home and campaign in our districts,” he said. “And whereas the president may have a certain approval rating, ours is many times dictated more on our votes than it is on an overall appeal.”

Many Republicans have raised concerns that the immigration votes could upset the GOP base and depress turnout in the November midterms.

Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz told the conservative online network CRTV that in conversations with House leadership, he’s practically dropped to his knees and begged them not to move forward.

“It is difficult to think of a path better designed to keep 3 to 5 million conservatives home in November than to pass a big amnesty plan right before the election,” he said. “Even in Washington, that’s colossally stupid, and saying that in Washington is a big deal.”

Meadows said Cruz’s remarks made him “confident” that if the House were to pass the compromise bill, it or anything close to it wouldn’t pass the Senate.

“I think that is something that is weighing on a number of our members,” he said. “Why pass a bill if it’s not going to become law, and it’s not going to pass the Senate, especially on one that has so many emotional facets to it?”

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