WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders hope to hold a vote on two competing immigration bills Thursday, a day after President Donald Trump reversed his migrant family separation policy, but neither measure appeared Wednesday to have the votes to pass.
The wave of negative reaction and criticism across the country and world, and within the Republican Party, to pictures of children in cagelike settings and audios of crying, forced Trump’s about-face and put pressure on Republicans in Congress to act.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had aimed to have the votes done by late afternoon Thursday, but by Wednesday evening had not scheduled the votes — which could be put off until another day if he and his leadership team do not round up a majority to pass a bill.
House Democrats oppose both measures and have introduced a bill to prevent families from being separated when detained.
Republicans are negotiating against themselves by considering two bills, one supported by conservatives and an alternate version that Ryan backs to draw support from more moderate members of his caucus.
“Under this bill, when people are being prosecuted for illegally crossing the border, families will remain together under DHS custody throughout the length of their legal proceedings,” Ryan said. “I hope that we will be able to pass this tomorrow.”
House leaders sent wavering caucus members to the White House to meet with Trump, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen went to Capitol Hill to meet with Republicans in the House and Senate.
Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee that includes more than half of the GOP majority, told The Associated Press that several lawmakers remained undecided, denying leadership of the majority needed for passage.
“Some of the members wanted to make sure the president is very visible in his support for both bills,” Walker said.
The fate of the bills remains unclear, said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). “It seems they’re short of votes,” he said. King said he backs Ryan’s alternate measure.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who attended a session with Trump about immigration and other matters at the White House Wednesday, said, “I support whichever option can be done swiftly and correctly so that families are detained together at the border.”
Even if one of the immigration bills does pass, it faces dim prospects in the Senate, where the 51-member Republican majority need 60 votes to pass a bill.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) showed no interest in negotiating on immigration legislation to fix a problem he said Trump created.
And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in a statement about the Trump executive order, indicated a legislative solution is unlikely.
Instead of promising to push through a bill as Trump asked, McConnell said, “I hope the federal courts reconsider the decision that limits an administration’s ability to keep families together while their immigration status is being determined.”