Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Wednesday Congress needs to pass legislation replacing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program by the end of March.
Ryan's imposed deadline for House action comes as the Republican whip team starts to count up votes for an immigration bill (HR 4760) by Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., to determine if it has enough support to bring to the floor.
“We clearly need to address this issue in March; I’ll just leave it at that,” said Ryan, R-Wis.
His comments come the day after a second judge blocked the Trump administration from winding down the Obama-era DACA program that protects about 700,000 "Dreamers" from deportation. President Donald Trump had said he wanted to end DACA by March 5.
Watch: House GOP Leadership — We Are Asking Members to Support the Goodlatte Bill
Ryan said March 5 is “important” but "not as important as it was before, given the court rulings."
“But I think this place works better with deadlines, and we want to operate on deadlines,” Ryan added.
The speaker’s deadline provides his chamber some flexibility as the Republican whip team determines whether there are enough votes to bring up the bill by Goodlatte and Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas. The measure would allow Dreamers renewable periods of legal status and eventual access to applying for a green card but not a special pathway to citizenship that Democrats and some Senate Republicans support.
“The Goodlatte-McCaul bill is the bill that we’re moving,” Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said. “And if you look at where we start today we are finally at least working on a way to come together to address this problem.”
A majority of House Republicans support the Goodlatte-McCaul bill but it’s unclear whether 216 do. That’s the number needed for the bill to pass the House without Democratic support.
House Republicans argue it’s the only bill that would get a majority of their conference and Trump’s support. Ryan said Trump has to be willing to sign a bill before he would agree to bring it to the floor.
“The president did a very good job of putting a very sincere offer on the table, and that sincere offer that he put on the table should be the framework through which we come together to find a solution,” Ryan said.
Trump's framework includes a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers, in exchange for a $25 billion trust fund for a border wall, limits to family-based visas and an end to the diversity visa lottery program.
“I remain encouraged by developments in the House toward advancing legislation from Chairmen Goodlatte and McCaul that also enshrines our four pillars,” Trump said Thursday as he endorsed their measure.
The Goodlatte-McCaul bill does not go as far with DACA protections as the president has proposed, and it includes other controversial proposals outside of his framework like creation of an agricultural guest worker program that lawmakers fear will provide competition for U.S. workers.
Passing it, supporters argue, will show where House Republicans stand on the issue as negotiations continue with the Senate and the White House.
“What we always want to do in the House is have a House Republican position so which we can start from for negotiations,” Ryan said.
The speaker declined to speculate about what the House will do if the whip count on the Goodlatte-McCaul falls short, but reiterated Republicans’ commitment to getting something done.
“Our hope [is] that our Democratic colleagues are more interested in finding a solution than preserving an issue for campaigns,” Ryan said. “We’re there for a solution. We’re not trying to preserve an issue.”