Brat scoffed at the notion that moderates would be able to bend the Freedom Caucus to their will by threatening to turn to Democrats. In an indication of just how entrenched conservatives are, Jordan waved off the idea of pairing a pathway to citizenship with a conservative immigration bill that the Freedom Caucus has backed. Freedom Caucus member Warren Davidson of Ohio said he was open to a pathway to citizenship that’s accompanied by conservative immigration provisions like those in the Goodlatte bill.
House Republicans are on the brink of an embarrassing showdown over immigration that Speaker Paul Ryan and his leadership team have been desperately trying to avoid.
As lawmakers left Washington for the Memorial Day recess in late May, GOP centrists gave immigration hard-liners a choice: Allow a vote on a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers – or we’ll team with Democrats to force votes on bipartisan immigration legislation you hate.
But most House Freedom Caucus members are spurning the offer. Several told POLITICO they see no reason to relent on the citizenship issue. A “special pathway,” as they call it, would only betray their beliefs and their base – for a vote on a bill that has no chance of becoming law.
“Negotiations are ongoing, but . I do not believe that the American people elected Republicans to create any type of ‘special pathway’ to citizenship for the DACA individuals,” said Freedom Caucus founder Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who’s negotiating with moderates and GOP leaders. “So we’re trying to work around that. That to me is a real concern.”
The stalemate between the two wings of the conference all but assures a chaotic June for Ryan. Leadership hoped to stop moderates from garnering the 218 signatures for a so-called discharge petition needed to trigger the immigration vote on the House floor. But Democrats are poised to join hands with several dozen centrist Republicans to pass a bill codifying the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The bill would toughen border security only modestly, and it includes virtually no new restrictions on immigration; its passage would be a humiliating defeat for the GOP-controlled Congress.
But the weekslong effort to strike a compromise to avoid the vote has fallen short. Centrists are adamant that those brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents as children be given a path into the legal system. To become a citizen, Dreamers currently have to marry a U.S. citizen or return to their birth nations – countries some of them don’t even remember – for several years before applying to return to the place they currently call home.
GOP leaders have scheduled a two-hour immigration meeting on Thursday to try again to break the impasse. Ryan will make a final push to corral the conference behind an immigration plan. Moderates have designated that day, June 7, as a soft deadline for securing 218 signatures, which would tee up the immigration vote series for June 25.
Currently, they’re five signatures away and expected to easily clear that threshold.
Despite conservative skepticism, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a leader of the discharge petition, said Freedom Caucus leaders have assured him they’re still considering a compromise. And some group members, including Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), have signaled a willingness to consider a deal.
"Our colleagues understand that for us it is critical for these young immigrants to have a way into the legal immigration system," Curbelo said. "We have every indication that they are engaging sincerely and in good faith."
Still, getting the caucus to go along with a vote on citizenship without President Donald Trump’s blessing seems unlikely at best.
On one hand, members of the Freedom Caucus are desperate to stop the discharge petition. They, like GOP leaders, believe House passage of a bill shielding Dreamers from deportation without significant immigration reforms would demoralize their base and hurt Republicans in the midterms. It would also expose that their own, more conservative DACA bill doesn’t have the votes to pass.
But the price moderates are demanding to stop the votes isn’t worth the heat most lawmakers on the far-right flank of the conference would take for allowing it to happen.
“No way,” said Freedom Caucus member Dave Brat of Virginia, when asked about the citizenship trade-off. “Now you just put up a green light to the rest of the world, saying, ‘Once you make it in [to the United States], you’re fine – and in fact you can cut in line!’ And when the American people find out about this,” they’d be upset, he said.
Brat scoffed at the notion that moderates would be able to bend the Freedom Caucus to their will by threatening to turn to Democrats. And showing just how toxic the debate has become, he scolded POLITICO for calling the petition backers “moderate” Republicans, arguing that they’re not moderate at all but actually “the pro-amnesty caucus.”
“Don’t say ‘moderates,’ because that’s not accurate,” he said. “They’re Democrat platform supporters!”
Outside anti-immigration groups have also signaled to conservatives that they need not cut a deal now. While many are sympathetic to the Freedom Caucus’ desire to stop the moderates’ discharge petition, they don’t think the conservatives should bend over backward to compromise at the moment.
RJ Hauman, government relations director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, noted in a Friday interview that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has already declared that he has no interest in taking up immigration – regardless of what happens in the House. The upper chamber earlier this year held a series of votes on Dreamer bills that spanned the political spectrum; none of them passed.
Hauman and his group have also told conservatives that their leverage will increase next year if the Supreme Court upholds Trump’s decision to suspend DACA.
“We’re firmly confident that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of the administration next year and the DACA program will start to actually get wound down and work permits will start going away,” Hauman said. “And that’s when the urgency kicks in. … The Democrats will surely come to the table and make some concessions to Republicans.”
Andrew Arthur of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies said the bar would have to be extremely high for the right to accept citizenship for Dreamers – and it would have to be paired with severe restrictions on immigration going forward. Without it, he said, it would lead to “more people encouraged to cross illegally hoping they get into the next amnesty.”
Many Freedom Caucus members are receptive to that case -�despite the pressure on them from leadership and centrists. In an indication of just how entrenched conservatives are, Jordan waved off the idea of pairing a pathway to citizenship with a conservative immigration bill that the Freedom Caucus has backed.
That bill, authored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), includes a border wall with Mexico, more enforcement officers and limits on legal immigration backed by Trump. It would also crack down on child migrants, asylum seekers and so-called sanctuary cities, and require all employers to verify the status of their workers.
Still, Jordan was skeptical of marrying the two approaches. He argued that any new system that enables Dreamers to quickly apply for green cards is out – even if lawmakers restrict them from citizenship for more than a decade afterward, as the moderates’ plan would. A green card grants an alien permission to reside and be employed in the U.S.
“Even though they were a child at the time, so it wasn’t their fault, you are allowing them to have a different route to citizenship than you allow for people who came here legally,” Jordan said of the centrists’ proposed legislation. “I don’t think we’re interested in that.”
Not all conservatives are dug in on the matter, however. Freedom Caucus member Warren Davidson of Ohio said he was open to a pathway to citizenship that’s accompanied by conservative immigration provisions like those in the Goodlatte bill. Warren said he, like Jordan, doesn’t back a “special pathway” but argued that he could be amenable to allowing Dreamers to apply for green cards eventually.
“If you’re registered, you’re officially in the system. Then at the end of the five-year period, having a standard pathway to citizenship and a green card makes sense to me,” Davidson said. “If you’re here, you’re law-abiding, you’re engaged in the economy, you’re working . that’s not a ‘special path.’ That’s what people do when they come to America legally.”
Still, Davidson appears to be in the minority on the issue among Freedom Caucus members.
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