A last-minute effort to salvage a House GOP immigration bill appeared to flounder Tuesday, amid unyielding opposition from the far right.
Desperate to flip conservative votes, centrist House Republicans offered to add a controversial provision requiring the use of E-Verify, which mandates all companies certify the legal status of their workers.
But it doesn’t look like it will be enough.
“Without E-Verify in the bill, [some members] couldn’t get to ‘yes,'” said Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, one Freedom Caucus member who pushed for the mandate’s addition.
However, asked if conservatives would back the bill if it’s added, he demurred. “We’ll see,” he said, adding that he also didn’t know yet how he would vote.
Other Freedom Caucus members, including Reps. Dave Brat (R-Va.), Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Jody Hice (R-Ga.), said they would still oppose the measure if E-Verify was included. The hard-line caucus debated the matter Monday night but was divided.
House Republicans huddled Tuesday morning to discuss the proposal, a more than 100-page amendment released late Monday night. Speaker Paul Ryan told lawmakers they needed to determine whether adding the amendment to the bill would help or hurt their vote count, though senior Republicans expect the bill to fail either way.
GOP leaders have said the House would likely vote Wednesday on the bill, which would fund President Donald Trump’s border wall and curb legal immigration while providing a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Even Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.), who tried to help bridge the divide between moderates and conservatives, said he was not sure how he would vote if E-Verify was added. He said he wanted to hear from the president, urging Trump to tweet his thoughts on the bill.
Trump last week, after promising Republicans he’d have their backs “1,000 percent," told House Republicans to essentially give up trying until after the midterm elections.
The latest round of negotiations underscores the fruitless back-and-forth between the GOP’s factions, as lawmakers struggled to come up with an immigration deal. Recently, moderates have offered to include more and more conservative provisions into the bill, but they’re still unable to secure commitments from hard-liners.
Conservatives say they want to ensure that decades-long flow of illegal immigration is finally stemmed, especially if they’re going to back a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. They’ve set a high bar to back the bill – perhaps too high, some moderates say.
The addition of E-Verify could cause problems for centrist Republicans who hail from agricultural districts whose farmers could be hit hard by the mandate. The latest amendment would also include a new agriculture worker program to try to ease centrists’ concerns. But some moderates, like Rep. David Valadao from California’s Central Valley, aren’t sure they can support the bill if E-Verify is included.
“They’ve made modifications. They continue to make modifications,” he said. “It’s getting closer to where I can support it. I’m not a solid ‘yes’ yet.”
Moderate Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, another skeptic of the E-Verify program, also seemed uncomfortable with the addition – though he suggested he’d accept it if it picked up votes.
“If we can get a product to the Senate, that is very important to me,” the Florida Republican said. “The question is: is there growth [in the vote] or not.”
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