WASHINGTON ― House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) privately conceded to a group of House conservatives on Tuesday that he plans to include a legislative fix for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children in a year-end spending deal.
Asked if he envisioned a December omnibus spending bill including Cost Sharing Reductions for Obamacare or some sort of solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Ryan told leaders of the Republican Study Committee that he didn’t believe CSR payments would be part of the deal with Democrats, but that DACA would.
“He did talk about the fact that that would be good if we could get ahead of that as opposed to being reactionary,” RSC Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.) told HuffPost Tuesday night.
When HuffPost asked Walker if Ryan had said Republicans didn’t have the votes to do something on DACA alone, and therefore needed Democratic support, Walker said, “It wasn’t as clear cut as that ― and it rarely is, actually ― but he did make reference that [DACA provisions] would be something that might be part of the whole ball of wax.”
RSC Steering Committee member Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) pushed back somewhat on the idea that Ryan was saying DACA would definitely be part of a year-end deal, but he agreed that Ryan suggested Republicans needed Democratic votes.
“I would have said we were having a discussion about where the year was going, what’s left that’s out there to get done,” Woodall said. “That’s on the list of things to get done, and we just wouldn’t have the votes to do it by itself, so it would have to get combined.”
Two other Republicans, who were not part of the discussion but were briefed on it by a member who was in attendance, said they heard the speaker was clear that DACA would be part of a year-end deal. Ryan’s office did not return a request for comment.
Walker did note that the speaker was emphatic that additional border security measures would be part of any agreement legislatively codifying DACA, which President Donald Trump ended last month.
“He did talk about border security,” Walker said of Ryan. “The language that I’ve used, when we did the poll in the RSC, 83 percent of the RSC members believe that a precursor of any kind of long-term DACA fix is securing the border. Now that could be defined different ways. I didn’t get any impression that Speaker Ryan has moved off of that position.”
But Walker conceded that enhanced border security didn’t necessarily mean “a wall.”
“I don’t think that anybody has said definitively that the wall has to be part of that,” Walker said.
There is some risk in taking Ryan’s comments too seriously. What he means by DACA could differ greatly from what Democrats want or believe is an acceptable solution. Ryan could also find significant opposition from his conference ― or from the White House ― and be forced to revise his negotiating strategy.
When HuffPost asked Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) on Tuesday about Ryan potentially including DACA in a year-end spending deal, Yoho said “he better not.”
“You gotta get rid of DACA. DACA needs to go away,” Yoho said.
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) also said it would be a “big problem” if Ryan included those immigration provisions in a December omnibus bill. “That’s true leadership, I guess,” Labrador said facetiously.
But Ryan’s private comments are significant as Republicans and Democrats begin negotiations on a year-end spending deal. If the speaker already believes DACA will be included in an omnibus bill, it would be a huge Democratic win that could make discussions more difficult for Ryan ― with his conference and with leaders on the other side of the aisle.
Trump put Republicans in this position when he announced he was ending the Obama executive action in March, throwing the fates of hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people in the hands of Congress. Suddenly, a party that had decried DACA and said they wanted a legislative solution was put in the position of either passing one or being responsible for so-called Dreamers losing their jobs and being deported.
Many Republicans have said they want to do something for Dreamers, but passing a stand-alone bill would likely only be possible if Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) chose to put a measure on the floor without majority support from their party.
Adding DACA provisions to an omnibus bill is a potential workaround, and likely the best chance for Dreamer protections to succeed, but it also still alienates many Republicans and would likely force a significant number of them to vote no, which in turn could strengthen the Democratic negotiating position on spending and other demands, like the Obamacare subsidies.
Democrats have said they will vote against the year-end spending bill if it doesn’t include legal status for young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, and Republicans don’t have enough votes to pass an omnibus bill in the Senate without at least some Democratic help.
Attaching Dreamer protections to the omnibus bill would also be a way for Republicans ― including Trump ― to save face. The president has already suggested he might act administratively if Congress fails to do anything for these immigrants. But, as Democrats have learned, anything Trump says could change quickly.
In September, Democratic leaders reported that Trump told them he would agree to Dreamer protections in exchange for border security, but Trump later reneged on that deal, and some White House staffers have tried to thwart an agreement by asking for demands that are unreasonable to Democrats.
Senate Republicans are reportedly working on a deal of their own that would include Dreamer protections along with other measures. But in the House, while Ryan created a working group to find a deal on Dreamers, he also included members who staunchly oppose legal status for undocumented immigrants.
Although Trump and some lawmakers have said they have until March of next year to act, the reality is that some Dreamers are already suffering from Trump’s decision to rescind DACA. If Congress doesn’t act, the situation will become even more dramatic on March 6; no DACA recipient whose permits expire after March 5 will able to renew them, so Dreamers will begin to lose protections in large numbers, forcing them to leave their jobs and putting them at risk of being detained and deported.
Democrats have said they’re willing to agree to certain border security measures ― though not a wall ― in exchange for a DACA deal. If Dreamer measures were part of a broader government spending bill, lawmakers could say they also got immigration enforcement funding as part of the package and both sides could claim some victories. But it’s clear that Democrats would believe they won the negotiations, even as Republicans in a number of swing districts would be blamed for any inaction.
Passing Dreamer measures is broadly popular. A Fox News poll in September found that 62 percent of voters said it was either extremely or very important for Congress to approve such a bill, and 86 percent believed Dreamers should be allowed to stay in the country.