Amnesty: The Rasputin of American Policy

President Obama’s illegal amnesty is turning out to be the Rasputin of the policy world. Every time you think it’s dead, it somehow staggers on.

The courts have saved the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program from extinction time and again, opposing outright President Trump’s efforts to undo the policy the very same way Obama created it. Now House Republicans are joining with Democrats in an effort to save the program by forcing the House to vote on amnesty for the 700,000 DACA recipients, and their 1.7 million counterparts, called “Dreamers.”

This perverse coalition of the willing, led by Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), now consists of 195 Democrats and 52 Republicans. They are seeking to make use of a little-used procedural tool called “queen-of-the-hill” to force a series of immigration votes in the House.

Queen-of-the-hill initiates in a domino style sequence. First, 218 signatures must be gathered on a discharge petition, which then forces votes on a series of four bills: the USA Act, the DREAM Act, Securing America’s Future Act (known colloquially as the Goodlatte bill) and a yet unidentified bill to be selected by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Under queen-of-the-hill rules, the bill that receives the greatest vote margin in favor is the one that passes.

Two of the bills under consideration, the USA Act and the DREAM Act, would provide amnesty to more than 3 million illegal immigrants under 18 years of age—though some estimates put the figure closer to 17 million as a result of the quadrupling effect that extended family chain migration has on immigration totals. Neither bill provides much in the way of border security. The USA Act provides negligible measures designed for low impact, and the DREAM Act makes no mention of border security at all.

A third bill by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is narrowly tailored to deal only with the 700,000 recipients of DACA by providing three-year renewable work permits, but not a path to citizenship. In exchange, other immigration categories would be cut. The bill would also impose a range of border protection and enforcement measures, including an end to chain migration and an authorization for President Trump’s long-sought border wall.

The substance of the fourth bill would be left up to Ryan.

Though the rules may seem fair, fairness is a relative concept in a city where absolutely nothing is left to chance. For a very clear example of this, refer to the “open” immigration reform process orchestrated earlier this year by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in which four immigration related measure were set up to fail. Which they did. All according to plan.

The Hurd-Denham queen-of-the-hill strategy is likewise designed to manufacture the illusion of “the House working its will” in an open and transparent way while, in reality, shaping a specific outcome: passing a giant amnesty via the DREAM Act. (I pull back the curtain on this in detail here.)

And this group of strange bedfellows is very close to making that happen. As of May 11, the discharge petition was only seven Republican signatures shy of the 218 signatures necessary to put the process in motion (assuming all the Democrats sign the petition as well, which they have indicated they will do). 17 Republicans have already signed.

Though Speaker Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) publicly have opposed the strategy, they are doing little to stop it. Their reticence could lead to what was, heretofore, an unthinkable outcome: A Republican House majority passing amnesty.

The feigned helplessness from Ryan and McCarthy is disturbing on several levels. While it’s true that the GOP leadership has few options to stop the dominoes from falling once the procedural wires are tripped, they do have access to the one powerful tool that makes Washington go-round: political muscle. And, by controlling the speaker’s office, Ryan has that in spades.

For evidence of this, look no further than the public flogging that outspoken conservatives have received from the speaker’s office in the past for the very sin that these 17 Republicans have now committed—opposing their leadership’s priorities. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) was stripped of his subcommittee chairmanship for voting the wrong way. Other members were kicked out of their positions on Rep. Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) whip team for similar transgressions. Campaign checks controlled by the party organizations were halted, and corporate political action committees were told to close their coffers to members bold enough openly to disagree with the leadership.

While many of these heavy-handed measures occurred under Ryan’s predecessor, former Speaker John Boehner, they were carried out by McCarthy and Scalise—both of whom are vying to take Ryan’s place.

It would be a troubling, but telling, portent for a future McCarthy or Scalise speakership if the Republicans associated with the amnesty strategy do not receive as much as a wrist slap for opposing their leadership’s agenda, as well as publicly flouting the priorities of their party’s president. Not only would it unmask the naked double standard that exists for conservatives and their priorities in the House, it would put Ryan, McCarthy, and Scalise on record as complicit in opposing one of the primary goals of Trump’s agenda.

Then there is the fact that allowing Democrats, the minority party, to control the floor of the House on the eve of an election is tantamount to political malpractice. Ryan promised conservatives in the party that he will not bring an immigration bill to the floor unless it has the support of a majority of Republicans. Yet he has been sitting on the Goodlatte bill, which is one that many Republicans favor and that the president would likely sign. His team’s lack of a whip effort on this critical issue raises significant questions about the GOP leadership’s commitment to the president—as well as to the integrity of their own party—on this critical issue.

For years, Republicans ran against President Obama’s illegal amnesty, and amnesty bills that reward lawbreaking without actually solving the problem of illegal immigration. It would be the height of terrible irony for a Republican majority in the House—with a Republican Senate and the White House at their disposal—to turn their backs so blantantly on these principles.

It’s proving time for Ryan, McCarthy, and Scalise—particularly as the latter two seek to ascend to the speaker’s chair. They should actively whip their members against the queen-of-the-hill effort, put the Goodlatte bill on the floor, and for once, focus on keeping their moderates in line instead of giving them a free pass openly to undermine their party’s agenda.

It took three tries for the Russian czars to kill Rasputin. One hopes that Republicans will not allow DACA to be as resilient.

Photo credit:  Alex Wong/Getty Images

About Rachel Bovard

Rachel Bovard is senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute and Senior Advisor to the Internet Accountability Project. Beginning in 2006, she served in both the House and Senate in various roles including as legislative director for Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and policy director for the Senate Steering Committee under the successive chairmanships of Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), where she advised Committee members on strategy related to floor procedure and policy matters. In the House, she worked as senior legislative assistant to Congressman Donald Manzullo (R-Il.), and Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas). She is the former director of policy services for the Heritage Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelBovard.

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