Congress inches closer to forced immigration fight, worrying Paul Ryan

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Twenty-three Republicans have now signed onto a petition to force a freewheeling immigration debate in the House of Representatives, as Speaker Paul Ryan continues to warn that the rare procedural maneuver will not produce legislation President Donald Trump would sign into law.

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GOP Reps. Tom Reed of New York and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania signed the discharge petition on Thursday, and with just a few more GOP signatures needed, that inches Congress closer to an immigration floor fight as soon as next month.

Preferring not to team with Democrats on a DACA remedy, Ryan said he and his leadership team are “trying to find that sweet spot” on an alternate immigration package that would garner a majority vote behind only Republican ayes.

PHOTO: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., takes questions from reporters about the meetings at the Justice Department about the federal investigation into President Donald Trumps 2016 campaign, on Capitol Hill, May 24, 2018. J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., takes questions from reporters about the meetings at the Justice Department about the federal investigation into President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, on Capitol Hill, May 24, 2018.

“We’re having a very productive conversation with our members,” Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday. “Obviously we don’t think a discharge petition is a good idea. It will not produce a result that will make it into law, and so we’re having very constructive conversations with our members about how we can find consensus on a bill that could actually solve the problem and make it into law.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer also signed the petition, pushing the total to 213 signatures - just five short of the 218 needed to succeed.

PHOTO: House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a weekly news conference, May 17, 2018, on Capitol Hill. Alex Wong/Getty Images
House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a weekly news conference, May 17, 2018, on Capitol Hill.

If all 193 Democrats sign on, 25 Republicans would be needed to satisfy the threshold. Right now, three Texas Democrats, Reps. Filemon Vela, Henry Cuellar and Vicente González, have maintained they won’t sign the petition, so in all likelihood, the effort needs five more Republican signatures to succeed.

“If we go down this path or that path, meaning failed paths that are guaranteed no law gets made, it’s kinda an exercise in futility as far as I’m concerned,” Ryan said.

The House Republican Conference will meet June 7 for a special immigration meeting to plot out a course of action, as leaders strive to find elusive consensus on legislation that will receive a vote before June 25, when the discharge petition fully ripens.

In the case of the discharge petition, moderate Republicans and most Democrats are hoping to advance H.Res 744, bipartisan legislation introduced in March. The bill would allow the full House to debate as amendments a range of four competing DACA proposals, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s “Securing America’s Future Act.”

House Republican leaders have worked for months to advance the Goodlatte bill, but concede they are far short of 218 Republican votes needed to send it to the Senate.

Two more bills that would advance to the floor during the debate are the bipartisan “Dream Act of 2017, introduced by Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.,” as well as the “USA Act of 2018,” fronted by Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Pete Aguilar, D-Calif. That bill is essentially comprised of the DREAM Act with an extra $25 billion added for border security.

Ryan would also be able to choose any other single piece of legislation to plug the fourth slot in the "Queen of the Hill" approach.

Under Queen of the Hill rules, if more than one alternative obtains a majority, the winner is the one that receives the greatest number of votes. It is unclear if any of the competing measures would garner a majority.

Despite Ryan’s pessimism, Pelosi believes the Queen of the Hill approach would at minimum produce a bipartisan product to send to the Senate.

“Queen of Hill gives Congress a chance to work its will in the most generous way,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “Everybody will have their chance to vote on, whether it's Goodlatte, the ‘Make America White Again’ bill, or it's pure DREAM Act, which would be ideal.”

Ryan and the GOP leadership team have pressured rank and file Republicans to stay off the petition.

“Now, they are threatening Committee assignments, support in campaigns,” Pelosi observed. “We hear all kinds of things that they are threatening Members if they do not abandon this. But we'll see. Let's see.”

Editor's note: This story was corrected to add Rep. Cuellar to the group of Democrats who had not signed onto the petition, and correct the total Republicans who had signed as well.