At least 17 House Republicans are ready to put some force behind their calls for a “queen of the hill” rule to set up a series of immigration votes, signing a discharge petition that could launch the winner-take-all legislative process against GOP leaders’ wishes.
The group of moderate Republicans, led by Florida’s Carlos Curbelo and Jeff Denham of California, are frustrated that the House has not voted on legislation to protect young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation in the eight months since President Donald Trump announced he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shelters roughly 700,000 of the so-called Dreamers.
Trump had provided Congress with a March 5 deadline to act, but that became moot after two federal judges in New York and California blocked the administration from ending the program and the Supreme Court denied an administration request to overturn those rulings.
Just last month, another federal judge ruled against the administration ending DACA and added that the Department of Homeland Security must resume accepting new DACA applications and processing renewals.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan and his leadership team have acknowledged that the court decisions have taken away the urgency for Congress to act but nonetheless say they continue to build support for a conservative immigration bill by House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte and Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul.
Republicans generally support the border security provisions of the Goodlatte-McCaul bill, but several Republicans feel it falls short on DACA protections. Goodlatte has expressed a willingness to modify that aspect to get more members on board but that hasn’t happened yet.
“We’ve wanted to work with our leadership, and we knew that they were working this Goodlatte bill and we wanted to give them time to do that, even though I was always very skeptical about it,” Curbelo said. “And too much time has passed.”
That’s why Curbelo said it was the right time to file a discharge petition on Denham’s resolution that would use a queen of the hill rule to set up votes on four measures, one each from him, Ryan, Goodlatte and California Democrat Lucille Roybal-Allard, or their designees.
The queen of the hill rule allows votes on multiple measures with the one receiving the most votes above the required simple majority vote threshold emerging as the House-passed bill.
A discharge petition needs 218 signatures to force a floor vote. Minority members are typically the ones who use the tool, and most majority members typically don’t sign them.
But this discharge is different since it has been filed by Republicans to force their own leadership’s hand. The 17 Republicans that have already signed on is a significant number but still at least eight shy of what they’ll need if all Democrats sign the petition, which is not guaranteed.
Democrats aren't planning to sign the discharge petition until Republicans get the signatures needed on their side for it to be successful.
New York GOP Rep. John Katko said he will sign it if there is no progress made toward a different solution in the next few days.
If 218 members do sign the discharge petition, then any of those members can call it up as a privileged resolution on the second or fourth Monday of the month — so long as it has been at least seven days since the petition was filed. That means the earliest this would get to the floor is June 25, the next relevant Monday the House is in session.
Curbelo and Denham talked to Ryan about their plans Tuesday and again Wednesday. They argued that the queen of the hill process was deferential to him because it provided an opportunity for him to offer a bill along with the three others already introduced — the Goodlatte-McCaul bill, Roybal-Allard’s DREAM Act and a measure from Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., that Denham would offer.
“I also told him at the very least doing this would create a greater sense of urgency, because regrettably inertia tends to dominate these immigration questions in Congress,” Curbelo said.
Not surprisingly, Ryan wasn’t a fan of the idea.
“He made it clear that his preference was not a discharge process,” Curbelo said.
What is Ryan’s preference?
“We continue to work with our members to find a solution that can both pass the House and get the president’s signature,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a statement.
The Goodlatte-McCaul bill is the only bill introduced in the House that Trump has signaled he’d support.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise said he thinks that measure is the right answer to the DACA problem but acknowledged that some members prefer a different approach to protecting Dreamers.
“A discharge petition is not the way to legislate,” the Louisiana Republican said, noting he’s urged members not to sign it.
“I’ve talked to some members about the importance of keeping control of the legislative vehicle and solving the problem on our terms, where we focus on solutions, not politics,” Scalise said.
McCaul said there have been no changes to the DACA portion of his bill with Goodlatte but that negotiations are ongoing.
“This discharge petition actually kinds of [adds] a little more pressure on us getting something to the floor soon,” he said. “I’ve been in discussions with the leadership and I hope we can get to within this month a version — if not the Goodlatte-McCaul bill exactly — a version of it.”
The Republicans signing onto the discharge petition reject the notion that Trump should have control over what bills get to the House floor, even though his support would ultimately be needed for a measure to be signed into law.
“This is about doing our job; this is about making sure that we are not consolidating power in the White House,” Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah., said. “If we are not allowed to bring bills to the floor or to debate bills on the floor, then the people that voted for me to represent them will not have a voice on the House floor.”
Camila DeChalus contributed to this report.