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With Family Separation as Backdrop, House Sets in Motion Immigration Votes

Speaker talks up compromise bill as addressing multiple issues in one swoop

Speaker Paul D. Ryan escorts President Donald Trump to the House Republican caucus meeting in the Capitol basement on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Paul D. Ryan escorts President Donald Trump to the House Republican caucus meeting in the Capitol basement on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As the focus on family separations at the Southern border intensifies, Speaker Paul D. Ryan declined Wednesday to say whether House Republicans would take up standalone legislation to prevent such separations at the border if their broader immigration bill addressing the issue fails.

“Right now we’re focused on passing this bill that’s coming to the floor tomorrow,” the Wisconsin Republican said.

The speaker was referring to legislation introduced Tuesday evening that was negotiated in recent weeks by more than a dozen members from various factions of the House Republican Conference. The measure will get a vote Thursday, along with a bill by Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte that conservatives favor, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said.

Ryan said the measure introduced Tuesday is a “compromise” that not only solves the family separation issue but also addresses border security, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and “a lot of our broken immigration parts.”

Watch: Democrats Flood House Floor With Children to Protest Family Separations

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President Donald Trump met with House Republicans Tuesday evening and asked them to support that plan, Ryan said.

Several members said after that meeting that Trump did not indicate that he was willing to fix the family separation issue administratively, although many contend he has the authority to do so.

They also said the president did not offer any signal on whether he’d support a standalone legislative fix.

Various media reports have suggested that Trump is seeking to use the family separation issue as leverage to secure broader immigration changes, and his tweets on the matter seem to back that up.

Yet Ryan called the idea that Republicans are seeking to use the children as leverage “a ridiculous assertion.”

In a sign of the sensitivity of the family separation issue, Ryan opened the weekly House GOP leadership news conference Wednesday.

Typically Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rogers and the other GOP leaders would speak and Ryan would address the press last.

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“We do not want children taken away from their parents,” Ryan said in his opening remarks Wednesday. “We can enforce our immigration laws without breaking families apart. The administration says it wants Congress to act and we are.”

Ryan stood by Trump’s request for a legislative fix, saying he believes one is needed to overturn a court ruling known as the Flores settlement.

“You’ve got to change the law,” he said.

The speaker also said Republicans plan to keep families together while also enforcing immigration laws. He said Democrats were trying to prioritize the former over the latter and said that’s a “false choice.”

Ryan said he hopes the GOP compromise bill, which he noted includes an “elegant” solution for the DACA crisis, passes Thursday.

“Under this bill, when people are being prosecuted for illegally crossing the border, families will remain together under DHS custody through the length of their proceedings,” Ryan said, noting the bill includes funding that the Homeland Security Department can use to provide housing for these families.

Asked about a Plan B should that fail, Ryan said, “This bill is plan B by the way for us to begin with.”

The compromise bill is plan B to the Goodlatte bill, which GOP leaders have long said doesn’t have the votes to pass.

But the compromise bill also appears to lack enough support with several conservatives opposing it.

Nonetheless, GOP leaders are focused on that vote and not on what happens after.