The moderate Republicans leading the charge for a last-ditch agreement for young undocumented immigrants said GOP leaders have until Tuesday to find a deal that can placate the conference, or they’ll join forces with Democrats to force a floor vote on a bill along the lines of the DREAM Act.
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), one of the moderates’ leaders in ongoing negotiations, told TPM Thursday afternoon that he thought the rough outlines of a pact were emerging. But Denham said the deal itself and actual legislative text needed to be finalized by Tuesday and a guaranteed time for a floor vote, or else they would join with Democrats to force a floor vote on a bipartisan fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shielded immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.
“We’ve set a deadline,” he told TPM. “We’re not pulling back. We have the signatures, we have the people ready to go down and sign, and we’ve been working with leadership to give them enough time to put a bill together and to bring this in front of our conference.”
Denham has helped lead the charge for a discharge petition that would force an open floor debate on how to reinstate DACA. That discharge petition has 215 supporters in the House, just three short of a majority that would force the vote, and Denham has promised he has the votes to get it there if necessary. Tuesday is the deadline to file the discharge petition for it to be counted in June and guarantee a House vote before the August recess.
That push has helped revive the slim possibility of a DACA fix in Congress this year — though even if it passes the House, getting it through the Senate and signed by Trump is still a tough slog, as the moderates acknowledge.
Denham told TPM on Thursday that he thought there was a good chance that his wing of the party and enough hardline conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus could come to an agreement on legislation now that the moderates had forced the issue, but that the devil remained in the details.
“What we’re all missing right now is seeing this written up in legislative text,” he said.
The details of what exactly that deal could entail are still shrouded in secrecy (and very much in flux, according to GOP members on all sides of the fight). But Denham said that conservatives had proposed “a special or a new visa” to allow DACA recipients to remain in the country for eight years while they go through the normal wait for citizenship. He said it was open to it in principle but wanted to see the actual legislative text.
Some of those conservatives disputed that detail and downplayed the threat of a discharge petition, even as they said they thought they were close on a deal.
“I’m not worried about the discharge petition. We’re as close as we’ve ever been, but we’re not there,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), one of the Freedom Caucus members negotiating the deal. “There’s no leverage there” for Denham, Labrador added dismissively, since, he said, President Trump wouldn’t sign into law any deal that Democrats and moderate Republicans could agree upon.
The back-and-forth comes after a conference-wide GOP meeting Thursday morning where broad principles were discussed, but no deal was floated by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).
The discharge petition has forced conservatives and House GOP leadership to the table. The question now is whether they can get a deal by Tuesday that can pass with mostly GOP support — and whether or not any deal the House can pass can also get approval in the Senate and by the White House. White House legislative director Marc Short was at the Thursday meeting, but in a listen-only capacity.
And Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), a Freedom Caucus leader, said his group wasn’t open to a “unique, different path” for DACA recipients to citizenship.
One other possible solution under consideration: Combining a number of other visa programs already existing under law and expanding overall numbers of those to allow DREAMers to apply for citizenship.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), another backer of the discharge petition, told reporters that the details were still being worked out — but that it’s do or die time.
“We don’t have a deal. There have been very productive, real conversations on real issues but there’s no deal,” he said. “This has to be done soon.”