Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., promised earlier this year he would force a floor vote on legislation to create a legal status pathway for illegal immigrants who served in the military — but GOP leadership intends to thwart that plan.
Doug Heye, a spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., confirmed to reporters Friday that when the National Defense Authorization Act comes up for consideration by the full House next week, Denham won't be permitted to seek consideration of his amendment, known as the ENLIST Act.
"No proposed ENLIST amendments to NDAA will be made in order," Heye said in an e-mail statement. The news is a blow to proponents who saw the ENLIST Act as an opportunity to do something affirmative on immigration while a complete overhaul of the flawed system remains in an indefinite holding pattern on Capitol Hill.
It's a win, though, for conservative groups like Heritage Action and the Madison Project, which ramped up efforts this week to let lawmakers know they'd be held accountable for "yes" votes on any NDAA that included ENLIST Act language.
Heye didn't specify the mechanisms that would be put in place to ensure that the amendment is kept off the floor. The parameters for floor debate on the NDAA typically allow for any germane amendment to receive an up or down vote, and last year, the ENLIST Act was considered germane.
At that time, Denham came to the floor prepared to ask for a vote on ENLIST, but agreed to withdraw the request in deference to Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., who has claimed jurisdiction over immigration issues.
Denham, who tried unsuccessfully to get ENLIST included in the base text of the NDAA mark up in the House Armed Services Committee last week, said he wouldn't be so accommodating this year.
He and his allies have argued ENLIST is not within the Judiciary Committee's purview, but rather was referred exclusively to the Armed Services Committee. Advocates say ENLIST would change military code, not immigration law.
Leadership may have put the brakes on Denham's efforts to avoid a politically loaded vote for members in an election year. There are also concerns a majority vote on the ENLIST Act would go on to sink the final vote on NDAA.
But leaders could have a difficult time making the case that an amendment that was germane last year no longer holds the distinction. House Rules is scheduled to meet on Monday to set up floor debate and make a number of amendments in order for consideration.