WASHINGTON — House Republicans opted Thursday to delay voting on a compromise immigration bill until next week to continue discussions on adding two provisions to boost its chances.
During a two-hour conference Thursday evening, members discussed adding electronic employee verification and agricultural visa work provisions to the compromise bill. The potential addition of these provisions could tilt the bill slightly more conservative and make it likely to garner more votes across the caucus as a result. However, members from across the ideological spectrum said they would hash out a compromise on these two issues, which is why they decided to delay the vote until next week.
"While we've all been in negotiations for the last several weeks, we feel like we've continued these good discussions, but two new issues came up," Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., who represented the moderates, said in a joint statement alongside Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus, and Mark Walker, R-N.C., chairman of the Republican study committee.
Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, said that seeing Denham and Meadows — who are on opposite sides of the conservative spectrum on immigration — willing to add the two controversial provisions to the bill helped elevate the sense that striking a new deal is possible.
"I think that's a big breakthrough and it gives me a great optimism that we can pass this," McCaul said.
Multiple leaders leaving the meeting also expressed confidence that the two additions could get the 218-vote majority necessary to finally pass an immigration bill over to the Senate — and some said President Donald Trump might like this bill even more than the conservative one the House rejected earlier on Thursday.
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"I think when we get it done the president is going to even like the new bill better than this bill," said Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas.
Earlier in the day, GOP leaders postponed the vote, originally scheduled for Thursday, to Friday. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the schedule change was intended to give members more time to review the legislation after some "said they had some questions on what's in the bill." Two leadership sources said there had been confusion among lawmakers about the contents of the compromise measure.
The initial decision to postpone came as lawmakers rejected legislation authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and favored by conservatives that would have authorized — but not appropriated — government funding for a border wall. The measure, which failed by a final vote of 193-231, also would not have provided a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, as those eligible under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are called.
As part of immigration negotiations between moderate Republicans and members of the conservative Freedom Caucus, leaders agreed to offer the vote on the Goodlatte bill along with a vote on a compromise immigration measure, which has now been delayed until next week.
The compromise measure would provide $25 billion in advanced funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall and border technology, provide an eventual pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, and keep undocumented children and their parents together while in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security. The bill would also eliminate the government’s visa lottery, and limits family-based migration in favor of merit-based programs.
Lawmakers had been skeptical Thursday that the compromise bill had a chance of passing, with Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., taking pains to lower expectations.
“Let’s take a step back here and remember why we’re here this week with this process,” he said at his weekly press conference. “Our goal was to prevent a discharge petition from reaching the floor because a discharge petition would have brought legislation to the floor that the president would have surely vetoed. It would have been an exercise in futility. A lot of our members want to be able to express themselves by voting for the policies that they like.”
Asked what Plan C would be if neither bill were to pass, Ryan said, “We will cross that bridge if we get to it.”
President Trump even tweeted that passing the bills could be a waste of time anyway, because of the uphill climb in the Senate, as a 60-vote filibuster would apply to such legislation: “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 (which they feel is good for them in the Mid-Terms). Republicans must get rid of the stupid Filibuster Rule — it is killing you!”
Reacting to the president’s comment, three senior GOP sources told NBC News that they didn’t view the tweet as that damaging to the compromise bill’s chances because both bills were already expected to fail.
After the conservative bill failed and the compromise bill was postponed, the president again lashed out at Democrats. "You cannot pass legislation on immigration whether it be for safety and security or any other reason including 'heart,' without getting Dem votes," he tweeted. "Problem is, they don’t care about security and R’s do. Zero Dems voted to support the Goodlatte Bill. They won’t vote for anything!"
A day earlier, Trump signed an executive order temporarily ending his administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border if the parents had crossed over illegally, even though officials had previously said that the president didn’t have the power to do so unilaterally.
The president appeared to make several efforts this week to lobby support for the House GOP’s effort — he met with Republicans on Capitol Hill, he invited them to the White House for a discussion and he dispatched some of his Cabinet officials to win over lawmakers. But many Republicans were confused and dissatisfied with what they described as the president’s lackluster messaging on the issue, with many saying he had not been clear about which bill he supported.
In addition, the House and Senate were on two separate pages, with Ryan trying to nix the idea of a stand-alone bill addressing family separation in favor of a more comprehensive immigration measure, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., advocating the opposite.
The decision to hold the immigration votes in the House stemmed from negotiations that evolved from moderate Republicans’ discharge petition, a House procedure that could force floor votes on the issue. Those moderates fell two signatures short of the 218 needed to trigger the process. Due to House rules, if supporters of the discharge petition want to try again, the failure of the Goodlatte bill — which was part of the petition — means they will now need to start the petition from scratch.