BATTLE FOR THE BORDER: Leaders warn Republicans against immigration vote

Washington, D.C. (The Hill) — Republican leaders warned rank-and-file members Wednesday not to move ahead with a discharge petition to force an immigration vote, saying the effort would effectively hand over power to the Democrats, according to lawmakers who attended the closed-door meeting.

“They said it’s a lot better to stick together as team than a few guys trying to do their own thing with a bill that simply switches the power over to the other party,” Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) told The Hill. “It turns the floor over to them.”

Leaders also said that the “the governing majority should be able to accomplish its agenda without resorting to discharge,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.). “That’s fundamental to governing.”

After the meeting, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) reiterated his opposition to the discharge petition.

“Obviously, we do not agree with discharge petitions. We think they are a mistake. They disunify our majority,” Ryan told reporters during his weekly press conference. “There are members of our majority [who] fall into different camps, and they want a solution on [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], and they want a solution on the border and the security issues, so we want to accommodate all of that.”

“We don’t want to advance something that won’t become law and just get vetoed even if it made it to the president’s desk. We want to advance something that has a chance of going into law that the president supports. That’s why we met with the president [yesterday].”

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) pushed back against the notion that the move would empower the minority, pointing out that Ryan would be able to bring up an immigration bill of his choosing under the petition.

“It takes away the argument that the majority loses control of the floor. The Speaker is allowed to bring up whatever bill he wants,” Upton said after the meeting. “You don’t really lose control of the floor, because you’re allowed to bring up whatever proposal you want, and you let the chips fall where they may.”

Ryan and his top lieutenants are facing intense pressure from members to bring immigration legislation to the floor.

Eighteen Republicans have signed on to a discharge petition to force a series of votes on several immigration bills. If a majority of House members sign the petition, it would force a vote on the floor.

If all Democrats back the petition, the sponsors would only need 25 Republicans to do so, a number that appears to be within reach despite opposition from GOP leaders.

Republican leaders, who met with President Trump on Tuesday to chart a path forward on immigration, assured members during Wednesday’s conference meeting that they are working on coming up with a solution to bring an immigration bill to the floor.

“They didn’t give a specific timeline, but every one of them looked me in the eye and said they planned to bring a bill to the floor,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas).

But Republicans who are pressing leaders for more details about what the compromise legislation would look like said they came up short on details.

“I have not seen what a final agreement would look like — or even close,” said Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who is leading the discharge petition effort. “So we’re having good discussions, but right now our focus is making sure we have 218 people to sign.”

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