House Republican Leaders Dally and Delay on Immigration

By | 2018-05-27T00:42:15+00:00 May 27th, 2018|
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Democrats in the House of Representatives are currently two GOP signatures away from forcing a series of votes designed to pass amnesty for upwards of 17 million illegal immigrants.

Those responsible for stopping this effort—the House Republican leadership—have already conceded that it will happen. Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) told the Washington Post on Friday he expects the petition ultimately to succeed, in what amounts to a mind-blowing “meh” from a leadership team that appears as complacent as they do indifferent to the possibility of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) taking over the floor on their watch.

Indeed, the House Republican leadership has looked increasingly weak as rank-and-file members ignore their pleas not to sign the discharge petition, which is the vehicle that will set up the votes to pass amnesty legislation. Even after closed-door meetings, open exhortations in the press, and President Trump’s veto threat, Republican moderates have continued to join Democrats in pushing the strategy forward.

To be clear, Republican leaders have other tools available to them than simply to ask Democrats nicely. GOP leaders are infamous for their hardball tactics against conservatives when they have opposed their leadership in similar ways. But for whatever reason, these same leaders—particularly Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)—refuse to exact the same retribution on their moderates. Instead, they choose inexplicably to reward behavior that has a very real chance of threatening the Republican majority in the midterms. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has openly campaigned for Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), the Republican leading the amnesty effort.

The only real step toward stopping the amnesty charge in the House is one Republican leaders have been curiously reluctant to take—bringing a border security bill to the floor. The Goodlatte bill—so named for its sponsor, Rep Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.)—has been sitting in the House since January, waiting for action.

It has all the elements of the strong border security that President Trump has been asking for, and which many congressional Republicans have said they support for years: Ending extended-family chain migration, shoring up interior and border enforcement, authorizing funding for President Trump’s border wall, and penalizing sanctuary cities. For recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the policy in the center of all of this furor, it provides three-year legal status and work permits, but no path to citizenship.

Despite significant support within the conference, Republican leadership has refused to bring the bill to the floor, claiming it doesn’t have the 218 votes necessary to pass. This is an odd excuse, given that just this year, the leadership has brought three bills to the floor which they knew would fail to garner the necessary votes, including the highly-touted (but all parts sham) Balanced Budget Amendment. Most recently, the leadership brought the farm bill to the floor before it failed in spectacular fashion.

After bowing to pressure from the House Freedom Caucus, Ryan has said he may consider the Goodlatte legislation “at some point” during the week of June 17. It is vital that GOP leadership commit to this, bringing this bill to the floor and engaging in a strong whip effort to get the bill across the finish line. Rank-and-file Republicans openly questioned their leadership’s genuine commitment to the bill, noting that previous efforts to urge support of the legislation have been less than satisfactory.

Moreover, some in the House seem content to rely on the Senate’s laziness or a presidential veto to backstop the effort of the House. This is a dangerously myopic view of what the passage of amnesty at any level would mean for the credibility of the GOP. For a party that has campaigned for years on strong borders and the rule of law, allowing Democrats to pass amnesty on their watch—while at the same time urging voters to vote Republican in November—would be shattering.

Allowing this amnesty effort to move forward presents a real risk to the future of the party, and also to the House’s leadership. Mishandling of immigration policy has already played a role in bringing down one speaker. It has arguably tainted the legacies of senators and at least one Republican president. If amnesty passes the House next month, the repercussions will bang like a gong in the upcoming midterm elections and the race to replace Paul Ryan as speaker. But the action will resonate far beyond the four walls of the House Chamber, as yet another decades-long political promise is shredded by a Republican party already knee deep in broken commitments and diminished credibility.

With the stakes so high, the nearness of this discharge petition should force congressional Republicans into action. Their whip effort for the Goodlatte bill must be an authentic one, with the force of the Speaker’s office behind it. One would hope it would be tinged by a little bit of desperation to save the political and policy legacy of this Republican House.

Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

About the Author:

Rachel Bovard
Rachel Bovard is senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute. 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.