Bipartisan negotiations on a way to issue new green cards to skilled immigrants have been going on for months, but the talks have broken down and instead, a bill from House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith will see floor action Thursday.
The White House and Congressional Democrats are looking to scuttle Republican legislation to provide visas to high-skilled immigrants in what could prove to be the last bit of immigration politics on Capitol Hill before Election Day.
Bipartisan negotiations have been ongoing for months on a way to issue 50,000 new green cards to skilled immigrants, but those talks have broken down and House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith's (R-Texas) bill will see floor action Thursday.
Some K Street firms are trying to avoid the highly politicized fight because the bill has slim chances of passing. It will come to the floor under suspension of the rules Thursday as one of the last votes Members take before they recess and return to the campaign trail.
Doug Heye, deputy chief of staff to Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said Democrats simply want to deny Republicans an election-year immigration win.
"The chairman made numerous good-faith offers to the Democrats. It became clear that while they often talked about doing something, they didn't want to see a bill up before the election," Heye said. "Further punting on this jobs issue is unacceptable to us, so we are acting."
Democrats, however, say Republicans are politicizing an issue Democrats broadly support by bringing a bill with just one Democratic co-sponsor under suspension of the rules, which means the measure needs a two-thirds vote to pass.
"That became very clear when they said, 'We have to take a vote before the election,'" one House Democratic staffer said. "They want to, just before the election, look like they're for something on immigration to make it look they're not against everything."
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), both of whom negotiated with Smith at one point, introduced their own version of the bill. The main difference is that the Republican bill shifts the 50,000 visas from a green card lottery, which one Republican aide called a "magnet for fraud and a loophole for terrorists," to high-skilled workers or those involved in the STEM fields - science, technology, engineering or math.
Democrats would instead add the new visas on top of the existing lottery program, a proposal Democrats said was a nonstarter for Republicans.
"It's almost like Republicans signed a Grover Norquist-type of immigration pledge, where all immigration has to be offset and we can't increase immigration," the House Democratic aide said.