House Republicans’ Immigration Bill Not Ready for Floor Action

Whip team says they will continue to refine the legislation

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and his team did a whip count on a GOP immigration bill, and it showed the measure wasn’t quite ready for a floor vote. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans’ preferred immigration bill is not ready for a floor vote, a Wednesday whip check showed, but leadership is expected to continue working it.

The bill by House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte and Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul is the most conservative of the proposals House and Senate lawmakers and the White House have floated for addressing the coming expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Several House Republicans have said the bill has the support of more than 150 members of their conference but an official GOP whip count Wednesday showed that there are not yet 216 — the number needed for floor passage — ready to commit to voting “yes.”

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise would not directly characterize the whip count but effectively confirmed as much.

Watch: Senate Leaders Open Immigration Debate With Dispute Over How to Start

“Any important bill is going to take some time to work through the differences,” the Louisiana Republican told Roll Call. “I don’t think our differences are insurmountable, but ... there are differences, especially on DACA.”

A Scalise aide said the whip team will continue to work the bill so House Republicans can pass it.

“The first whip really identifies where your problems are — they ask very specifically not just how you’re going to vote, but, ‘Tell us why, what are the concerns?’ So they’ll sort through that, and then there’ll be another one after they’ve had a chance to address it,” said Okalahoma Rep. Tom Cole, a whip team member. “And that’s when it really gets clarified, is there a path there?”

Faith and skepticism

Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker noted that the whip count is always different from a floor vote, and he was confident leadership would continue to build support for the Goodlatte bill.

“Everything that Speaker Ryan and leadership has told us since last fall of how they would handle this issue, they’ve done exactly — to keep it out of the CR, to keep it out of the spending bills, to try to go at it from this perspective,” the North Carolina Republican said. “Yes, they have followed through on it, so I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t continue to keep their word.”

House Freedom Caucus leaders were skeptical, however, citing GOP leaders’ “reluctance” to push the Goodlatte measure like they did the tax or health care overhauls.

“For goodness sake, we’d just like to see the same intensity on this piece of legislation … that we’ve seen on other issues,” said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the former caucus chairman.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows warned Ryan against moving a bill not to conservatives’ liking.

“It is the defining moment for this speaker,” the North Carolina Republican said. “If he gets it wrong, it will have consequences for him, but it will also have consequences for the rest of the party.”

Riding the deadline

Congress has just one full legislative week in session left before the March 5 expiration of the DACA program as set by President Donald Trump. But  federal court rulings that are blocking that expiration render the deadline “less important,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Wednesday.

“But I think this place works better with deadlines, and we want to operate on deadlines,” the speaker said. “We clearly need to address this issue in March.”

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham called Ryan’s comment on the deadline “completely inappropriate.”

“People have given up their jobs, have dropped out of school, have lost their jobs, are fearful; their parents are fearful,” the New Mexico Democrat said.

“That’s like saying, ‘So we know that your house is on fire, but it seems to be isolated to one part, so if you could put up sand bags and water barriers, we think you have time. You’re only going to lose that one room. And we don’t think you’ll lose your life. I mean, it’s possible the fire could spread.’” she added. “You can’t do that to people’s lives, irrespective of how the court is treating the applications.”

One silver lining for Democrats in Ryan’s suggestion that House action may not occur until later in March is that it provides them another leverage opportunity, as their votes will be needed to pass an omnibus spending bill before March 23, when the latest stopgap funding bill expires.

“Yes,” Lujan Grisham said when asked if Democrats would use that leverage. “I’m going to pitch every single day every opportunity that’s available we should take. Haven’t been able to get that in a win situation, but make no mistake: In every single Democratic environment where I can make that pitch, I do.”

Cole said he is worried about Democrats trying to tie immigration to spending again, but said Ryan has “played his hand really well” and established a principle that they should remain separate.

While Cole expressed hope for quick action on DACA and an omnibus bill, he acknowledged the House will have some “breathing room” on the former if the Senate fails to advance a bill this week.

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