House Republicans spent two hours Thursday morning talking through their differences on immigration but left the pivotal meeting no closer to a legislative solution.
The continued discord all but guarantees a discharge petition will get the 218 signatures by early next week, which would trigger a June 25 vote on a queen of the hill rule setting up a series of votes on existing immigration bills that also lack unified GOP support.
“We’re three signatures away, but it’s like the last two minutes of a football game, it just goes on forever,” Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said.
House rules require seven legislative days for a discharge petition to ripen once it gets to 218 signatures, after which any signatory can call it up as a privileged resolution on the second or fourth Monday of the month.
The remaining signatures would need to be on the discharge petition by June 12 for a vote to occur on June 25 and moderates leading the effort seem prepared to ensure that will happen if no agreement is reached in the coming days. Otherwise, the next possible date for a vote is July 23, as the House is not scheduled to be in session July 9.
What Is a Discharge Petition Anyway?
Even if the petition gets to 218 signatures Republicans may continue to negotiate up until June 25 to see if they can strike a deal that would get the discharge supporters to agree to a procedural maneuver to turn it off. But the chances they’ll be able to do so appear minimal.
In a sign that leadership was not confident the conference would finally be able to get on the same page on an issue that has divided Republicans for years, Speaker Paul D. Ryan opened the Thursday conference by noting the purpose of the talks was to head off the discharge petition, not force the issue, according to a source in the room.
Ryan said the ideas leaders and members involved in the negotiations were presenting Thursday weren’t the product of leadership but rather the result of the meetings between moderate and conservative members of the conference, the source said.
The speaker then walked through the four pillars of an immigration deal President Donald Trump laid out earlier this year and how the negotiators have discussed possibly addressing them.
Trump’s four pillars involve beefing up border security with a physical wall, protecting “Dreamers” brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, reducing family-sponsored visas and ending the Diversity Visa lottery program.
Ryan presented the four pillars as a starting point and said that if there’s a resolution it might be a week or so before legislative text is ready to be unveiled, White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short told reporters after he left the meeting.
“We’re in the final hours of negotiating and those are always the hardest,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said.
No agreement on issues
Several members left the conference meeting saying there was no agreement reached on any of the issues beyond adhering to the four pillars. Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul said he viewed the conversation as “a green light from the conference” to move forward with talks honing in on those four areas.
Rep. Leonard Lance, one of the Republicans who signed the discharge petition, said the GOP conference was civil and productive. But the New Jersey Republican said he wished the conversation would’ve happened six months ago.
A path to citizenship for Dreamers “was among the points discussed,” Lance said. Asked if there was pushback on that, he said, “There was a healthy discussion but I was favorably impressed with the civility.”
Nobody cursed at each other during the meeting as has been known to happen on occasion, Rep. Joe L. Barton said.
“The speaker outlived a fairly lengthy set of general points that could form the basis of a compromise,” the Texas Republican said.
Barton said the discussion didn’t delve into detail on how to define the Dreamer population that would be covered under the bill. There are roughly 700,000 currently covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but Trump has proposed legal status for up to 1.8 million Dreamers.
There was consensus that “once you make a definitional decision on DACA the people that meet the definition will be allowed on a merit based process to stay in the country, permanently,” Barton said. “Then you go forward to what are the terms and conditions in which you would be able to apply for citizenship. Do you create a merit-based pathway that doesn’t currently exist or do you somehow put them in line with some of the pathways that already exists?”
Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said there was discussion of a “trigger mechanism” that would ensure no Dreamer received citizenship until money for border security is spent.
The North Carolina Republican wasn’t sour on lack of agreement Thursday, saying, “I don’t know that today everything was meant to be resolved.”
Barton was optimistic that the conference could come together but acknowledged that needs to happen soon.
“If we don’t agree pretty quickly you’ll get two or three more signatures on the discharge petition and one of those four bills will go to the Senate and it will probably be one of the more liberal bills, which I will vote for, but I’m in the minority in the conference,” he said.
Ryan publicly optimistic
Ryan struck an optimistic tone when addressing reporters after the GOP conference meeting. He called the discussion “productive” and said he’s hopeful a compromise built around the president’s four pillars can be reached to stop the discharge petition.
The four pillar approach the conference discussed is the “most optimistic plausible chance of getting [something] into law,” Ryan said.
But the Senate has already proven a four-pillar probably can’t pass that chamber. Ryan said he can’t constantly concern himself with what can pass the Senate and they can deal with that obstacle later.
The next step, Ryan said, is to put pen to paper on the ideas House Republicans have discussed.
“How we put together the four pillars is really what matters here,“ he said.
The speaker also again suggested Democrats aren’t interested in a legislative fix on DACA because they want to campaign on the issue.
“I worry that Democrats would rather have an issue than a solution,” he said.
Dean DeChiaro contributed to this report.