Speaker Paul D. Ryan acknowledged on Thursday that he’s not sure if House Republicans can pass any immigration bill, even as the chamber was poised to begin voting on two such measures.
“I don’t know the answer to that question,” the Wisconsin Republican said when asked if there’s any legislative solution on immigration that could unify the GOP conference, which is divided on many issues but particularly immigration.
Ryan pointed to the two bills the House will vote on Thursday — a measure conservatives favor and one negotiated by various factions that moderates favor — as a way to answer the question.
Both bills are widely expected to fail, but Ryan wouldn’t directly say that.
The fact that leadership is moving forward with votes on the bills they know are likely to fail rather than to continue working to build support suggests they’re not confident they would be able to refine either measure to a passable product.
“At the end of the day I really believe — if a bill isn’t passed today — we’re going to come back to the president’s four pillars,” he said. Those pillars are a solution for those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program; funding for a border wall, and curtailing family-based and the diversity lottery immigration programs.
Regardless of whether the GOP bills pass, Ryan said he believes the ideas they’re putting forward in their legislation could serve as the basis of a future deal.
“These are good ideas that are ultimately going to show a way forward,” he said.
After weeks of huddled negotiations, House Republicans on Thursday will attempt to bridge a longstanding intraparty divide and pass immigration legislation that would protect so-called Dreamers from deportation and bolster President Donald Trump’s enforcement and border security agenda.
The House will vote on two bills, both of which are long shots to pass given that no Democrats plan to support them and Republicans are split. The measures face crucial tests around lunchtime, when the House will vote on the rules for both. If Republicans don’t unite at least on those votes, one or both bills could die before coming up for a vote final passage.
The first bill, favored by conservatives, would grant legal status to Dreamers enrolled in the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program while authorizing funds for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall and cracking down on asylum seekers.
The second bill, the result of a compromise brokered by GOP leaders, includes many of the same enforcement provisions. But instead of granting Dreamers legal status, it would create a new merit-based visa program that Dreamers could obtain and use to gain eventual citizenship.
The chances that either bill can pass looked even worse after Trump tweeted Thursday morning that he didn’t see the point of even voting on them given that Senate Democrats can block most legislation from eventually reaching his desk.
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“What is the purpose of the House doing good immigration bills when you need 9 votes by Democrats in the Senate, and the Dems are only looking to Obstruct (which they feel is good for them in the Mid-Terms),” Trump tweeted before telling Republicans to do away with the legislative filibuster.
The tweet is likely to give already skeptical House GOP members even less incentive to support either bill. Trump has undercut past attempts by lawmakers to pass immigration legislation, including in February when he sunk a narrow compromise in the Senate that came within six votes of passing.
Thursday's votes will unfold against the backdrop of continued uproar over the administration’s practice of separating undocumented children and their parents at the border. Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday that reversed the practice by ordering that the parents and the children be held together for the duration of criminal or civil immigration proceedings.
Republicans included a provision in the so-called compromise bill designed to keep families together while they remain in government custody, but Democrats and immigrant advocates have labeled it a red herring, arguing that it flies in the face of current law and would lead to indefinite detention of asylum-seekers.
Democrats have blasted both Republican bills in recent days, arguing the GOP is using Dreamers and migrant children as leverage to force through Trump’s deportation agenda. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the compromise bill “a cruel codification of President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda that abandons our nation’s heritage as a beacon of hope and opportunity.”
John T. Bennett contributed to this report.