WASHINGTON — The House will vote next week on two Republican-written immigration bills, a top GOP aide said late Tuesday, as leaders sought to move past an election-year civil war they worry will wound the party’s prospects in November.
AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), announced the decision after a bargaining session Tuesday among leaders and top conservative and GOP lawmakers ended without agreement on a single package all sides could support. The votes will head off a petition moderates have been pushing that could force votes on other immigration bills that they prefer, she said, adding Republicans will discuss the plan at a closed-door meeting on Wednesday.
For weeks, the party’s two wings have hunted ways to provide a route to citizenship for “Dreamer” immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children and also bolster border security, but have failed to find middle ground.
The House ended Tuesday’s session as moderates fell short of their stated goal of having 218 signatures — a majority of the chamber — on a petition that would force votes on other immigration bills that GOP leaders oppose. They had said they would do that by Tuesday in order to trigger those votes later this month.
Instead, the centrists accumulated the names of all 193 Democrats but just 23 Republicans — two short of the number required.
GOP leaders have strongly opposed the rarely used petition tactic, asserting those votes would probably produce a liberal-leaning bill backed by Democrats and just a smattering of Republicans. They’ve actively lobbied other moderates to not sign the petition, and in talks bargainers have sought legislation both sides could back or alternatively a way for each faction to get a vote on legislation they could support.
Strong said the decision to consider two bills will avert the petition “and resolve the border security and immigration issues.” She said GOP lawmakers would discuss the plan at a closed-door meeting Wednesday.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a leader of the moderates’ petition drive, gave his group credit for the planned House votes. GOP leaders had resisted holding those votes, wary of the GOP divisions they would highlight, until the petition neared the required signatures.
“Our goal has always been to force the House to debate and consider meaningful immigration reform, and today we’re one step closer,” Curbelo said.
Strong did not describe the two bills.
But Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who leads the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, said one would be a strongly conservative measure that does not give the young immigrants a way to become citizens.
The alternative measure is still under discussion, Meadows said. But a Republican familiar with the discussions said it would likely be based on a proposal by moderates that would grant the Dreamers a chance for citizenship but also provide all $25 billion President Donald Trump wants for his wall and impose curbs on legal immigration that conservatives want. That Republican spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private talks.
The conservative measure seemed certain to be defeated in the GOP-run House. If the second bill resembles the moderates’ proposal, it too seems likely to lose from opposition by a combination of conservative Republicans and the chamber’s Democrats.
Earlier Tuesday, a meeting led by Ryan ended with participants saying no agreement had been reached. Several expressed optimism that an accord was near but provided no evidence of that.
Three Republicans involved in the talks said centrist lawmakers had coalesced around a proposal that would give young “Dreamer” immigrants a chance to eventually become citizens.
In exchange, the moderates had been willing to make concessions to conservatives on security, including providing all $25 billion for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico and curbing legal immigration programs, those Republicans said. The programs included limiting the relatives whom immigrants can bring to the United States and ending a lottery that provides visas to people from countries with low immigration rates, the Republicans said.