The House will vote on legislation to save the DACA program before the end of June, in a rare victory for Republican moderates over immigration hardliners in their own party.
Moderates had been threatening to go over House Speaker Paul Ryan’s head and force a series of votes to extend DACA, the program that allows hundreds of thousands of children of undocumented immigrants to remain and work in America. By partnering with Democrats, they could force the issue to the floor if 218 members signed a discharge petition — and Republican leadership would be powerless to stop it.
As their movement gained steam, Ryan offered them a deal that includes a commitment to put a moderate DACA bill to a floor vote by June 25. As part of the deal, they also won a commitment to meet with the White House to try to craft a bill that President Trump will agree to sign into law. The details have not been worked out, but the plan will almost certainly include a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients plus funding for Trump’s border wall.
The moderates weren’t quite declaring mission accomplished Friday, but Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said “the mission is looking good.”
“It’s put the issue back on the front burner. There are talks again. And we wouldn’t be talking about this if it wasn’t for the discharge petition,” he said.
The deal was made over the fervent opposition of the hardline conservative Freedom Caucus. That group had been attempting to block an open DACA debate because they fear moderate Republicans and Democrats will team up to pass a bill that leans more liberal on immigration and border security.
“The mandate of the 2016 election was to deal with immigration in the right way, one where we actually build a border security wall,” said Freedom Caucus member Rep. Jim Jordan. “You know what the result [of the discharge petition] is likely to be, and it’s not consistent with the mandate of the election.”
The Freedom Caucus had demanded an immediate vote on their preferred plan, known as the Goodlatte bill, which makes conservative changes to immigration laws and authorizes Trump’s promised Mexican border wall. Moderates wanted the vote later and for the Goodlatte bill to go head to head with their own plan.
Ryan ultimately gave the moderates what they wanted. In response, many members of the Freedom Caucus helped bring down a major policy bill in a dramatic vote on the House floor Friday.
After the vote, some Freedom Caucus members were visibly angry that Paul Ryan would not give them a vote on the Goodlatte bill.
"For months and months, we've been promised we'd get to vote, right? People have told us, if you vote for [spending bills] you get the Goodlatte bill, over and over again,” said Rep. Scott Perry.
For moderate Republicans, the work now is just beginning to craft a bill that can get bipartisan support, as well as Trump’s signature.
“If your concern is the border and having a porous border that’s what we have right now and every day is worse. If your concern is the DREAMers, every day is a nightmare for them until we solve it,” said Diaz-Balart.
Moderates don’t have to take Paul Ryan on his word. They still have the discharge petition as leverage, which currently sits just 22 signatures shy of succeeding. If Ryan fails to deliver on his promise, moderates can still force the issue to the floor — if they can get enough people on board.
The sponsors of the petition were cagey Friday about what their next steps will be. But they seem to be holding back on adding new signatures to the petition for now. “We have not decided when we’re going to put all of them across the desk but we are continuing to add [signatures],” said Rep. Jeff Denham, who helped to lead the effort.
If the discharge petition succeeds, it would force votes on four DACA bills June 25. Denham said moderates have received a commitment from leadership for a vote on both their yet-to-be-drafted bill and the Goodlatte bill, by that date. If Ryan welches on that deal, they could still end up taking matters into their own hands.