By Alan Fram
and Lisa Mascaro
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican leaders will try to craft compromise legislation in hopes of defusing a standoff between moderates and conservatives on immigration legislation, House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Thursday.
Ryan spoke with reporters as he and other GOP leaders left a private meeting without resolving divisions between conservatives and moderates that threaten the party’s prospects in November’s elections.
The Wisconsin Republican said they’d work toward a draft that resembles President Donald Trump’s demands on the issue. GOP leaders’ goal is to head off a drive by unhappy moderates to force House votes on legislation soon that would provide young “Dreamer” immigrants, those who were brought into the country illegally as children, a chance for citizenship.
Leaders want to “work with our members to get things done and avoid a discharge petition,” Ryan said of the seldom-used process that centrists are applying to try to force the votes. “So obviously time is of the essence.”
If moderates can gather two more GOP signatures on their petition by next Tuesday — assuming all Democrats sign — they could force immigration votes in late June.
Party leaders and conservatives oppose the moderates’ drive. They say it would likely result in liberal-leaning legislation that would never clear the Senate or get Trump’s signature, and would antagonize conservative voters, jeopardizing GOP turnout in November elections in which control of the House is at stake.
“A discharge petition will result in no law,” Ryan said. “This effort to get our members to come to a common ground is the best chance at law.”
In exchange for providing possible citizenship for young “Dreamers,” Trump has demanded full financing for his proposed $25-billion wall with Mexico and curbs in legal immigration. Those restrictions include ending a lottery that distributes about 50,000 visas annually to countries with few U.S. immigrants and limiting the relatives legal immigrants can bring to this country.
Democrats and many Republicans have opposed curbs in legal immigration.
Participants in Thursday’s meetings said Ryan used a Power Point presentation to lay out similarities and differences among Republicans, but no specific proposal for bridging that divide.
After meetings on Wednesday, Republicans expressed optimism that the gap between moderates and conservatives could be resolved, but offered no details of how.
“There’s some loose consensus right now,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., a leader of centrists threatening to force votes if they can’t strike a deal with conservatives. He said leaders would unveil “an outline of a potential bill,” while conservative leader Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said Ryan would present “concepts.”
The major hang-up in GOP talks has been how, as the moderates have demanded, to offer a chance for citizenship to young “Dreamer” immigrants. Conservatives have opposed creating a special pathway for them to become citizens, calling it amnesty.
“We’ve got the rule of law in this country, and nobody gets special consideration,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., said a large group of conservatives he leads has discussed providing a pathway to citizenship to “Dreamers” in exchange for funding for the proposed border wall, ending the visa lottery and limiting the relatives immigrants can bring into the country.
Democrats and at least some moderates would likely oppose such measures, giving it little chance of surviving in the more centrist Senate.
Walker said the more “Dreamers” who’d be given an opportunity for citizenship, the tighter curbs on family-based migration would be. Roughly 700,000 people are protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, an Obama-era policy that Trump has halted. But by some estimates, 1 million or more other people qualify for that program but haven’t applied.
The moderates’ petition would force House votes on four immigration bills, ranging from a liberal one helping “Dreamers” win citizenship to a conservative version curbing legal immigration.
GOP leaders and conservatives say the votes the moderates would force would probably produce legislation that is too liberal, with all Democrats joining a handful of Republicans to push it through the House.
Senate Republicans would block such a measure, and Trump would veto it if it went that far. But such an outcome could alienate conservative voters, damaging GOP chances for holding the House.
Because of those divisions, averting the issue completely unless an agreement is reached has been the GOP leadership’s preference all year, until their hand was forced by moderates wielding the rarely used petition process.