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GOP immigration talks stall, and moderates step up the pressure for a House vote

GOP immigration talks stall, and moderates step up the pressure for a House vote
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) participates in 2015. (Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans emerged from a meeting Thursday morning without clear agreement on immigration legislation, opening the door for a group of moderate lawmakers to move forward with a maneuver to force a vote — over GOP leaders’ objections — on the issue.

Moderate and conservative Republicans had tried to reach a deal during the Memorial Day recess to present to House Republicans. The party has struggled for years to come together on immigration, and at a meeting Thursday morning, no compromise plan got enough support from the caucus to move forward.

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Some members leaving the meeting indicated that GOP leadership will try to draft legislation based on what was discussed.

“This is a conversation that will continue,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said Thursday. He set no deadline for the process.

Republican leaders had hoped that reaching a compromise would stop moderate members from employing a rarely used procedural move called a discharge petition to force a vote on four immigration bills. As of Thursday, the petition was three GOP signatures away from reaching the needed 218.

“Obviously time is of the essence if we want to have a legislative process that we can control,” Ryan said. “I realize they are only three away.” Ryan wouldn’t say exactly what progress had been made during the two-hour meeting.

Turlock Republican Rep. Jeff Denham, a leader of the petition effort, said moderates had held back on collecting the last few signatures needed to give negotiations time.

But because House rules limit when such measures can be voted on, the group now says it will give negotiations until Tuesday to reach a deal, and then proceed with the petition.

“We're not willing to sit back and wait and see how politics plays out,” Denham said Thursday. “We're going to get this done. We have a firm deadline of next Tuesday."

If that doesn't work, he added, then "this will be discharged, and we will force a vote on the House floor."

House members have proposed more than half a dozen bills to address the status of hundreds of thousands of people brought to the country illegally as children, but it remains unclear whether any can pass.

At a separate meeting Wednesday, conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus pitched the creation of a new visa for Dreamers that would eventually lead to citizenship. A person in the room referred to it as a "bridge" into the legal immigration system. Moderates were open to that idea but wanted to see it in writing. Also unclear is what conservatives want in exchange. They have previously demanded new limits on legal immigration, unrelated to Dreamers, in exchange for helping the young immigrants.

President Trump ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program last fall and told the House and Senate they had until March 5 to find a solution through legislation.

The Senate brought up and failed to pass several bills, but the House never voted on legislation of its own. Ryan promised a solution in March but has also said he doesn’t see the point in trying to pass an immigration bill that doesn’t include Trump’s priorities, and which he won’t sign.

Congress’ attempts at a solution stalled after a federal judge temporarily stopped the program from shutting down amid pending legal challenges.

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The discharge petition triggers a “queen of the Hill” vote on four immigration bills: one favored by the Trump administration, one preferred by Democrats, one bipartisan proposal and an immigration bill of Ryan’s choice. If more than one passes, the bill with the most votes would move forward to the Senate.

There is no guarantee that any of the bills will pass, that the Senate will consider them or that the president will sign whatever might reach his desk. Ryan on Thursday called the petition “pointless,” saying it will not result in a bill that passes the House.

All four bills would help so-called Dreamers to some degree, though they differ on how much border security or immigration enforcement they include in exchange, and on whether the legal protections could lead to citizenship . For example, the Trump-backed bill would dramatically reduce legal immigration and provide money to build a wall at the southern border, while the Democrats’ favored bill would deal only with citizenship for Dreamers.

10:55 a.m.: This article was updated with a comment from Rep. Jeff Denham.

9:35 a.m.: This article was updated with details about the possible compromise.

This story was originally published at 8:50 a.m.

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