Do House Republicans have an immigration bill they could pass before the March 5 expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that would get President Donald Trump’s signature?
The answer to that question will become clear Wednesday as the GOP whip team conducts a formal check on the only House measure that has Trump’s backing. If the whip count is favorable, GOP leaders will bring it to the floor, a House leadership aide confirmed.
The conservative bill by House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte is universally opposed by Democrats. So it would need the support of 216 Republicans to get to the floor.
That means no more than 22 Republicans could oppose it, a heavy lift on a sweeping immigration measure that goes beyond the four pillars that Trump has said must be included in any immigration bill Congress sends to his desk.
Trump wants a bill that provides protections for DACA recipients and other so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. But the president also wants the measure to fund construction of a wall along the Southern border, end the diversity visa lottery program and limit family-based visas.
The Goodlatte bill meets those criteria, but it has other provisions outside the scope of Trump’s four pillars. That includes controversial proposals to require employers to use the E-Verify program to check employees’ immigration status and to authorize the Department of Justice to withhold grants from sanctuary cities.
The bill would also create an agricultural guest worker program that many lawmakers have said is flawed.
Goodlatte and other lawmakers who helped author the bill have been working on changes, but those are unlikely to be unveiled before Wednesday’s whip check.
One GOP source said leadership is publicly whipping in favor of the bill but privately working against it. The House leadership aide refuted that characterization, saying leadership would not have held listening sessions on the measure if it didn’t want to find a way to get members’ support.
Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, one of the bill’s primary co-authors, expressed hope the whip would be favorable.
“I think we’ve had a growing support over the last couple of weeks,” the Texas Republican said. “This really forces it to a head, and I feel optimistic about it garnering stronger support.”
The bill, if passed, would provide the House with a vehicle to form a conference committee with the Senate, McCaul added.
A conference committee would seem like the most logical path to a DACA compromise, but it is conditioned on both chambers passing a bill, something that is far from guaranteed.
The Senate’s open immigration debate that began Monday is off to a rough start, and it’s unclear if any of the measures the chamber is expected to consider this week will be able to reach the 60-vote threshold needed for passage.
Watch: Senate Leaders Discuss Immigration Debate Progress So Far
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned his colleagues Tuesday that time is of the essence, with the March 5 deadline approaching. The deadline, set by the Trump administration, is somewhat flexible with federal court rulings preventing the administration from fully ending DACA.
Both chambers of Congress are scheduled to be on recess next week for Presidents Day so there is only one full legislative week remaining if Congress wants to act before the deadline.
If the Goodlatte bill does not have enough votes to pass, the House may not have another measure to consider before March 5. Speaker Paul D. Ryan has said he would only bring a bill to the floor if it has Trump’s support.
The House leadership aide said there are other avenues for such a measure to materialize, such as the Senate debate and the ongoing negotiations between the No. 2 congressional leaders. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, one of the No. 2 principals, said Tuesday those talks are on hold while the Senate debate plays out.
Whip team optimistic
Whip team members were optimistic heading into Wednesday’s vote count on the Goodlatte bill.
“I think it’s going to whip positive,” Rep. Phil Roe said.
The Tennessee Republican said members have raised some concerns about the bill and what it does and doesn’t do, but Goodlatte has tried to make clear that it’s not a comprehensive measure that is meant to serve as the final word on immigration matters.
Roe said the Goodlatte bill is the only measure leadership is whipping at this time, and it’s presence as the only option seems to be registering with the conference.
“It’s what we’ve got, and we’ve got to get going on it,” said Texas Rep. Roger Williams, another whip team member. “If it’s got the support I think it does, I think we’d want to put it up there pretty quick, let the Senate know what we got.”
Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, another primary co-author of the bill and chairman of Judiciary’s Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee, did not offer a prediction about Wednesday’s whip count but suggested that if it falls short, that shouldn’t be the end of leadership’s efforts.
“We gotta keep working it, just like they worked on the tax bill,” the Idaho Republican said.