Hardline conservative Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) summed things up pretty neatly when asked if the GOP’s big immigration bills were likely to pass on Thursday: “No.”
That’s the consensus from most Republican lawmakers, who have been whipsawed by President Trump’s erratic behavior on immigration and stymied by their own inability to land on a compromise bill that can get 218 votes in the House.
Much of that internal House GOP failure has been driven by the normal incalcitrance from Davidson and other members of the Freedom Caucus, the right-wing tail that wags the dog of House Republicans, as well as more moderate Republicans’ failure to force the issue with GOP leadership.
The House plans to vote on two immigration bills on Thursday. One conservative bill that would give President Trump almost all he has asked for on border security and changes to visas while offering an more onerous process for undocumented immigrants brought here as children to stay in the country legally. The other, a compromise bill that was still a moving target just hours before the vote itself, would offer much of what Trump wants as well as a more permanent fix for the DREAMers.
The conservatives made it clear Thursday morning that they weren’t thrilled with the compromise legislation, both due to the chaotic process and the actual content of the bill.
Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) had a blow-up on the House floor with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) Wednesday afternoon. And he made it clear that he still was far from pleased with the legislation as it stands late Thursday morning.
“I fully anticipate that the [immigration compromise] bill still needs work in order to get to 218,” Meadows said Thursday. “I don’t know that there’s time to work it out before a vote today.”
Meadows also slammed the rushed and sloppy process. The House GOP bill had to be amended last-minute because its original language gave Trump five times the planned $25 billion for his wall.
“There were enough technical drafting errors yesterday that gave me great pause, and some of those drafting errors were substantial,” he griped. “You don’t pass a major piece of legislation with there being errors in it, and so I don’t know there’s enough time between now and this afternoon.”
But House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX), whose committee had to fix the draft legislation, dismissed the change as “two words that needed to be changed,” while suggesting anyone claiming that was the reason they opposed the bill wasn’t being honest.
And Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), another Freedom Caucus leader, was blunt that he and others weren’t happy they didn’t get their way on everything.
“The reason it’s going to fail is not enough members are willing to do what we said, plain and simple,” he said.
Even as conservatives made it clear the bill wasn’t going to get the support from the right that’s needed, some of the more centrist members also began to peel off, further dooming the bills.
“I have long advocated for securing our nation’s borders and providing a permanent legislative fix for DACA recipients, but this proposal does not accomplish either goal,” Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), a leader of the pro-immigration Republicans, said in a statement.
The GOP members abandoning ship from both sides of the conference show that this last-gasp effort to provide help for DREAMers including those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is all but done.
“We’re running out of time. This is probably the last chance,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), a pro-immigration Republican, conceded to TPM.
“No man, c’mon! You’ve got to keep working at it,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), a Freedom Caucus member, interjected.
But Diaz-Balart wasn’t optimistic, calling the possibility of failure “a huge blow to both border security and the DREAMers.”
And the finger-pointing had begun even before the vote. A number of Republicans including Trump sought to blame Democrats for refusing to back their legislation (even though Republicans have been completely unwilling to embrace bipartisan legislation). But some were honest about whose fault this was: Trump’s and the conservatives’.
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), a retiring Freedom Caucus member and immigration expert, made it clear that Trump has not been helpful in the process, saying his attacks against Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) during his Tuesday meeting that was supposed to be a rally for the immigration bills had done the opposite, calling it “unfortunate.”
“The president needs to understand that that may have actually lost him votes at this meeting,” he said. “The reason he was there was to emphasize he had our backs and I think a different message was sent that day.”
And moderate Rep. Pete King (R-NY) took a whack at his more conservative colleagues.
“The Freedom Caucus, it seems to me, got 80 to 90 percent of what they what. That should be enough. This is probably one of the most consensus-type bill on such a controversial issue within our party. Because of them, the only way we could get a bill to pass is to reach out to Democrats and make the bill more liberal. It’s hard to see what their agenda is,” King groused. “It’s their way or the highway, I guess.”
This story was updated at 1:45 p.m.
Alice Ollstein contributed to this story.