‘What Is The Purpose’: Trump Tweet Further Imperils House GOP Immigration Push

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 20:  U.S. President Donald Trump (R) meets with members of the U.S. Congress on immigration in the Cabinet Room of the White House June 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. Trump said he would sign an executive order later today relating to the issue of immigrant children being separated from their parents while being detained. Also pictured is Sen. James Inhofe (L) (R-OK). (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images North America

President Trump dumped cold water all over House Republicans’ flickering efforts to pass a major immigration bill on Thursday, undercutting their already-unsteady push with just hours to go before scheduled votes with a tweet.

“What is the purpose of the House doing good immigration bills when you need 9 votes by Democrats in the Senate, and the Dems are only looking to Obstruct,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning, complaining about the Senate’s filibuster while further destabilizing House Republicans’ increasingly desperate attempts to pass a comprehensive immigration bill later that day.

The tweet is the latest sign of Trump’s ambivalence towards a pair of competing House GOP bills that would hand him much of what he’s asked for on immigration: money for his border wall and more restrictions on visas for immigrants entering the country in exchange for protections for undocumented immigrants brought here as children.

And it’s his latest move to undercut the tense House negotiations, which have already been thoroughly upended by the Trump administration’s move to separate migrant families at the border (one Trump partially walked back with an executive order on Wednesday after saying that wasn’t within his power). Trump also didn’t give the ringing endorsement House leaders had hoped for on the bills during a meeting with House members on Tuesday, instead delivering a rambling stem-winder that confused many in the room.

The House immigration fight is as much about politics as policy. Moderate House Republicans in more diverse and suburban districts facing tough reelection fights are desperate to protect DREAMers who are facing the loss of their legal status after Trump’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

That group came up just short in its push to partner with House Democrats to get a majority of members on a discharge petition, a mechanism to force a House vote over the objections of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). After they failed they settled on a compromise bill with hardline conservatives that made many concessions to the right-wingers.

But that group of Freedom Caucus hardliners have continued to balk over the compromise bill, and both it and their preferred version were already looking like they were going to go down in defeat on Thursday. The slapdash efforts on a compromise hit peak tension Wednesday evening, with Freedom Caucus head and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) getting into a heated argument on the House floor with Ryan over the bill. And in their rush to get the bill done, House Republicans are having to clean up some bone-headed errors — including a Rules Committee vote to fix language that would have accidentally increased the money for Trump’s border wall by a factor of five.

The House votes are still scheduled for Thursday afternoon, though they could get pushed back. But the president’s tweet makes their chances look even more doubtful.

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