House edges closer to immigration debate after 2 more Democrats sign effort to force floor fight

House Republicans are set to huddle Thursday to set immigration strategy.

Two holdout Texas Democrats – Reps. Filemon Vela and Vicente Gonzalez – have announced they are signing a discharge petition to mandate a debate on immigration reform, leaving the appeal just three signatures short of the 218 it needs to force an immigration floor fight later this month.

For weeks, both lawmakers had refused to sign the petition, citing concerns that it could open the floodgates for Republicans to hold "Dreamers" hostage in exchange for a border wall.

“By signing this discharge petition, I do so with the intent of giving 800,000 young people – young Americans - peace of mind and the ability to remain in the only country they call home,” Gonzalez, D-Texas, wrote in a statement. “Let me be clear, I will not accept a DACA fix that includes funding for a border wall. It’s unfortunate that we are at this nexus, but the ball is now in the Republicans’ court. And as such, I ask them: ‘What will be your next move?’”

Vela said he consulted with "Dreamers" and clergy in his district over the congressional recess and decided to add his support “so that dreamers can get the vote they are asking for.”

“I will vote for a clean Dream act but not for any measure that includes border wall funding,” Vela announced. “Republican moderates claim they have the votes to move their discharge petition forward. ... Let’s see.”

How close is an immigration debate?

If all 193 Democrats sign on, 25 Republicans would be needed to satisfy the threshold. Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar is the only member of his caucus who has not signed the petition. If he sticks to his guns, four more Republicans must sign in order to force a freewheeling immigration debate in the House of Representatives.

So far, 23 Republicans have also signed onto the petition, even as Speaker Paul Ryan repeatedly warns that the rare procedural maneuver will not produce legislation President Donald Trump would sign into law.

Preferring not to team with Democrats on a DACA remedy, the House Republican Conference will huddle Thursday 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.

What bills could the House consider?

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, though Democrats predict the Hurd-Aguilar bill would prevail.