Party divided: Republicans attempt to bridge struggle over immigration

John Cox

When House Republicans lawmakers left the closed-door meeting about immigration on Thursday, they weren't sure what comes next in a debate that has roiled the party and clouded House Speaker Paul Ryan's future atop the caucus.

But there are still a number of sticking points in any tentative agreement, including enforcement, the size of the population eligible for visas and green cards, and just how the pathway to legal permanent status would work.

The flurry underscored the escalating pressure Republicans face to address immigration, an issue pitting centrists representing Hispanic and moderate voters against conservatives with deep-red constituents sympathetic to President Donald Trump's anti-immigrant outbursts.

In a sign that leadership was not confident the conference would finally be able to get on the same page on an issue that has divided Republicans for years, Speaker Paul D. Ryan opened the Thursday conference by noting the objective of the talks was to head off the discharge petition, not force the issue, according to a source in the room.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., leader of the Freedom Caucus, declined to confirm that his group had made an offer and said no overall immigration agreement among Republicans has been reached. Another member of that group, Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., said a proposal has been discussed but cautioned that there are "tons of moving pieces to it".

An insurrection from moderate Republicans who are just three signatures shy of the support needed for a discharge petition to force a vote on immigration reform in the House, including a solution on the 700,000 immigrants who were shielded from deportation by an Obama-era program known as DACA, is paused-for now. "Let me say one more time, a discharge petition will result in no law".

But, he added: "If there's no agreement, then we're going to proceed". He also said the plan would apply to more than the almost 700,000 people who have been protected by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that Trump has halted. But by some estimates, 1 million or more other people qualify for that program but haven't applied.

"This was their offer to us and it's something we can agree to but not until we see it on paper", Denham said.

Both conservative and moderate lawmakers, the two factions at odds over the issue, said they didn't know what to expect as they entered the session. Bob Corker in Tennessee, Trump framed Democrats as "MS-13 loving" fans of "open borders" and said he hopes the issue is at play throughout campaign season.

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If no immigration deal is reached before Tuesday, Denham said he will push ahead with his effort to force an immigration vote without leadership approval.

But before members of the GOP put the Champagne on ice in expectation of a big win in the midterm elections November 6, they should listen to the cautionary wisdom of two professionals who have, through decades of national elections, jointly conducted that Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey, Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart and Republican pollster Bill McInturff. "This effort to get our members to come to a common ground is the best chance at law".

In exchange for providing possible citizenship for Dreamers, Trump wants full financing for his wall with Mexico. In addition, the conservatives want to end a lottery that grants visas to countries with few immigrants to the USA and curb the relatives who can be brought over by immigrants, Walker said.

Democrats and many moderate Republicans have opposed curbs in legal immigration.

Participants in Thursday's meetings said Ryan used a Power Point presentation to lay out similarities and differences among Republicans, but no specific proposal for bridging that divide. They hope they can head off unhappy moderates trying to force votes on bills providing a chance for citizenship for thousands of young immigrants brought to the USA illegally.

"How is it fair to grant ... amnesty to people who are here illegally and put them in front of people who went through the long, torturous process (to obtain citizenship)?"

Denham said the deal includes funding for border security, including the wall, an eight-year path to citizenship for "Dreamers" and no e-verify.

Denham is a sponsor of the Uniting and Securing America Act, USA Act for short, which charts an "earned" path to citizenship for Dreamers.

"But Democratic contenders there leveraged financial and strategic help from the national party to weather the winnowing primary, and ensure that they will field candidates in multiple districts that they will most likely need if they are to win control in November ..."

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