WASHINGTON ― Despite President Donald Trump’s stated ― albeit, at times, muddled ― support for two GOP immigration bills, House Republicans are on course to reject both proposals in the coming days.
The House rejected the more conservative bill Thursday afternoon 193-231, with all Democrats and 41 Republicans voting no on the so-called Goodlatte bill, a measure written by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). And prospects look dim for a second Republican proposal, the “compromise” bill, which was abruptly rescheduled for a Friday vote and then later Thursday night pushed back until next week.
But the takeaway for many conservatives was not that House Republicans rejected their hardline immigration ideas; it’s just how close the Goodlatte bill came to passing.
Leadership has been telling members for months that the Goodlatte bill was far from passing. So it was a bit surprising Thursday when the legislation ended up only 20 votes short of a passing threshold.
Yes, the bill failed. And finding the last 20 votes for the proposal would be very difficult, if not impossible. But conservatives have shown that the vast majority of the GOP conference is with them on immigration. Two conservative members pointed out to HuffPost that, with a more aggressive campaign from Trump, as well as more pressure from GOP leadership — which had taken a more hands-off approach toward whipping this bill — and Republicans may be dangerously close to passing the Goodlatte bill, or some modified version of it.
Trump did signal support for both bills, telling House Republicans on Tuesday night that he was behind both measures “1,000 percent.” But faced with continued opposition and a vote count that looked bleak, Trump never stepped up his own personal whipping. And by Thursday morning, instead of the supportive Trump tweet that House GOP leaders had been angling for, Trump asked what the purpose was of the House voting on immigration bills if they needed nine Senate Democrats to also support a bill. “Republicans must get rid of the stupid Filibuster Rule-it is killing you!”
For some House Republicans on the fence about both bills, the seemingly indifferent and fatalistic tone of the tweet was the license they needed to vote no on a politically perilous bill. And for Trump, the less-than-emphatic sales pitch might have been just that: Rather than owning the immigration failure in the House, the president distanced himself and showed he didn’t really care anyway.
Instead of Trump taking a loss and showing that his influence among House Republicans may not be as strong as perceived, the blame for the immigration bills going down will mostly be placed on the shoulders of Speaker Paul Ryan and other House GOP leaders.
It will certainly raise some eyebrows in the GOP conference if the “compromise” bill ends up with fewer votes than the hardline Goodlatte bill. And the lesson from voting on two different bills will be that the secret to passing an immigration bill in the House with just GOP votes is not to cow to moderates, but to conservatives.
When the “compromise” bill comes up for a vote, potentially next week, lawmakers will be looking at more than just whether the bill passes. Suddenly, it matters a great deal by how many votes the bill fails.
The strategy of voting on two bills ― one for conservatives and one for moderates ― basically assured the failure of both, as individual members could support one bill and not the other. Republicans never seemed to be close to passing either bill, and allotting two days to officially whip the measures meant leaders had hardly any time to flip members.
Just ahead of the vote on the Goodlatte bill on Thursday, Republican leaders had pushed back consideration of the “compromise” bill. Members met later in the day and kicked the “compromise” measure all the way into next week.
Part of the problem of passing an immigration bill is that Republicans never had any support among Democrats. Rather than bring Democrats to the negotiating table, Republicans only negotiated amongst themselves. And then when they couldn’t reach consensus there, they threw their hands up, went forward with the strategy of voting on two bills and feigned outrage that Democrats wouldn’t support either bill.
While there are differences between the two measures and one is meant to bring in conservatives and another is meant to draw moderates, both are quite hardline measures. Both fund the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border ― the Goodlatte bill supplies $30 billion, while the compromise bill provides $25 billion ― and both end the diversity visa program. The big difference between the two bills concerns the provisions dealing with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows undocumented young people who came to the United States as children ― often called Dreamers ― temporary permits to stay and work legally. Trump attempted to rescind the program last fall but was blocked in court.
The Goodlatte bill would allow existing DACA recipients to renew their legal status every three years, with no permanent solution. The compromise bill would apply to a larger population of immigrants who are DACA-eligible and they would renew their legal status every six years. It would also establish a merit-based green card system that could provide a permanent solution at some point.
Both bills would make it possible for immigrant families to be detained together, which could run the risk of kids being locked up with their parents for months or even years, although the legislation would also allow for quicker deportations in some cases.
The family detention changes have been framed as a response to the recent separation of families arrested crossing the border illegally under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting as many illegal entry cases as possible. Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday to detain parents with their kids while they undergo criminal and then immigration proceedings, but would need either court approval or congressional action to lock them up for longer than about 20 days.
Democrats have argued for narrower legislation to address Dreamers exclusively, and some have joined moderate Republicans in backing bills that would both grant legal status to undocumented young people and expand border security provisions, although not to the degree Trump has proposed.
Ryan accused Democrats earlier Thursday of not wanting to address immigration issues. He said the Republican bills are the only options that could get a signature from the president.
“I actually think we’re advancing the cause even if something doesn’t necessarily pass,” he said at a press conference ahead of the vote. “I think we’re making advancements because we’re putting ideas on the table.”