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Group of House Republicans defy leadership in bid to force immigration, DACA votes

If all Democrats back the effort, at least 25 of the 236 GOP members would need to sign onto a discharge petition filed Wednesday, which can be used to force votes on the House floor.

WASHINGTON — A group of House Republicans are pushing ahead in an effort to force floor votes on a pack of four different immigration proposals, despite objections by GOP congressional leaders.

“We believe this institution needs to act, immigration has paralyzed this institution for too long,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla, said at a press conference Wednesday. “We don’t view this in any way of undermining house leaders but on the contrary, we feel we are also empowering them to deal with a very controversial issue.”

If all Democrats back the effort, Republicans need at least 25 of their 236 members to sign onto a discharge petition filed Wednesday, which can be used to force votes on the House floor.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 17 Republicans had already signed onto the petition. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., retiring Saturday, is among the Republicans who joined the petition, but his signature will still count beyond that date. House rules for the current Congress say that "the death or resignation of a member who has signed a motion does not invalidate the signature but it may be withdrawn by the member's successor."

“There is no secret that we have come close a couple of times, and then, whether it was Democratic leadership or the Republican leadership, they have not allowed a vote on the floor,” Rep Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said. “This bold move will force a vote — force a vote on the floor. This is an issue that will not fix itself, this is an issue that requires a legislative solution, and that is why I am so grateful for bringing this forward.”

The petition, filed Wednesday by Reps. Curbelo, Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Will Hurd, R-Texas, would force a vote on bipartisan legislation unveiled in March that would allow for consideration of four different proposals, including a conservative immigration bill proposed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., a bipartisan version of the Dream Act and a bipartisan bill to protect people covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program while enhancing border security. It would also allow Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis, the ability to offer an immigration bill of his choosing.

The three Republicans represent districts considered toss-up races in November's midterm elections and areas that have large Hispanic populations. Hurd represents the largest district along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. Many of the Republicans who have signed onto the petition are among the more moderate members of the House Republican Conference.

GOP leaders, however, did not appear eager to support the effort.

“I don’t believe in discharge petitions,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters leaving the House floor Wednesday, “Why not? Because you are turning the floor over. I think it is better to use the legislative process.”

“We continue to work with our members to find a solution that can both pass the House and get the president’s signature,” said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for the Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told NBC News.

Curbelo said Wednesday he had spoken to Ryan several times about this member-led effort to bring immigration to the floor and Ryan reiterated a discharge petition was not his preference.

“I explained to him why I thought this was not only good for the House as an institution but for him as speaker,” Curbelo said he told the speaker, adding that this measure could help create a greater sense of urgency.

Denham said he had spoken to the White House on a few occasions about his group’s efforts.

“I have certainly spent some time explaining to them about the process — doing a rule or a discharge is pretty unique — but also I definitely want to understand the administration’s safety concerns along the border as well as concerns for DREAMers,” he said.

If the petition receives enough support, the earliest a vote could be held would be June, since discharge petitions can only be considered on the House floor on the second and fourth Mondays of the month when the House is in session.

The push comes several months after the Senate failed to pass an immigration overhaul in February. The Trump administration announced last September that it would end DACA and tasked Congress with developing a legislation solution instead by March 5. Former President Obama created DACA in 2012 to defer deportation for people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Trump, meanwhile, introduced the White House immigration framework in January, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million for DACA recipients, fund the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall with a $25 billion “trust fund” and end the government’s visa lottery program.

Even if a vote occurs in the House, it could be difficult to get a measure through the Senate where an immigration bill would face a 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster and advance to a final vote.