Paul Ryan Is Losing Control of His Caucus Over DACA

As the House Republicans struggle to find a solution for the Dreamers, I’m finding myself really dissatisfied with the quality of the available reporting. From what I can surmise, a couple of dozen so-called moderate Republicans have joined nearly all of the House Democrats in signing a discharge petition. They’re currently three votes shy of obtaining the majority needed to force several votes on immigration-related issues, including DACA. Everyone is operating on the assumption that the petitioners already have the support they need and are just holding off on the last few signatures to try to force some kind of compromise.

Of course, the House Leadership would bring these bills up for votes themselves if they supported them, but the vast majority of the Republican caucus and the White House do not support them. Moreover, the leadership really doesn’t like discharge petitions on principle and generally considers it an act of serious and punishable disloyalty when their members sign them.  A successful discharge petition takes away the leadership’s control of the House floor, makes them look weak, and really amounts to a vote of no confidence from the House as a whole.

To ward off that possibility, Speaker Ryan convened a meeting of the Republicans this morning and tried to impress upon them the preferability of coming to a compromise rather than forcing the issue to a vote. Of course, he made a fatal mistake right at the outset. He decided that the negotiations should be built on scaffolding defined by President Trump’s “four pillars.”  The four pillars are “beefing up border security with a physical wall, protecting ‘Dreamers’ brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, reducing family-sponsored visas and ending the Diversity Visa lottery program.”

Three of the four pillars are strongly opposed by the Democrats, and “The Wall” is a complete dealbreaker. If the Republicans insist these things be included in any compromise bill, there will be no compromise and the discharge petition will most likely go into effect.

The continued discord all but guarantees a discharge petition will get the 218 signatures by early next, which would trigger a June 25 vote on a queen of the hill rule setting up a series of votes on existing immigration bills that also lack unified GOP support.

“We’re three signatures away, but it’s like the last two minutes of a football game, it just goes on forever,” Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. House rules require seven legislative days for a discharge petition to ripen once it gets to 218 signatures, after which any signatory can call it up as a privileged resolution on the second or fourth Monday of the month.

The remaining signatures would need to be on the discharge petition by June 12 for a vote to occur on June 25 and moderates leading the effort appear [ready] to ensure that happens if no agreement is reached in the coming days. Otherwise the next possible date for a vote is July 23, as the House is not scheduled to be in session July 9.

For the two dozen or so House Republicans who want to force this issue, they’re already resigned to voting for a bill that is acceptable to the Democrats, which means that they are effectively forced to negotiate from the Democrats’ perspective in these negotiations with their anti-Dreamer colleagues. Speaker Ryan seems deluded or in denial about this. He wants, it seems, to repeat the normal House Republican pattern of passing something dead on arrival so he can take credit for doing something without actually accomplishing anything. His position is that the president will never sign a bill that doesn’t meet the “four pillars” test. That could be true, but what’s more certain is that the Senate won’t pass a bill that does meet the four pillars test.

If the discharge petition goes through, the House will pass a DACA fix approved by the Democrats. The Senate failed an attempt at a DACA fix earlier this year but they demonstrated in 2013 that they have the votes for comprehensive immigration reform. I believe they still do. Whether Majority Leader McConnell will allow or can be compelled to allow a vote on the House bill in his chamber is an open question.

In any case, it’s at least possible that a DACA fix will land on Trump’s desk before the midterm elections. If it doesn’t, McConnell will be in the hot seat. If it does, Trump will have to decide what the right political move is for himself and for his party as they face the voters. I’m sure Trump realizes that he can not afford for the GOP to lose its congressional majorities. And the Republican petitioners are some of the most vulnerable members in the caucus.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.