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House GOP Leaders Delay Vote On Compromise Immigration Bill

Photo caption: House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is trying to unite his conference around a c...

Photo by Mark Wilson Getty Images

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is trying to unite his conference around a compromise immigration bill modeled on the four items President Trump has demanded in a legislative proposal.

Updated at 4:06 p.m. ET

House Republican leaders delayed a vote on the so-called "consensus" immigration legislation Thursday afternoon as they scrambled to convince enough GOP lawmakers to support the measure.

The vote on that bill is now scheduled for Friday morning, according to multiple House GOP leadership aides.

Some GOP lawmakers felt that they didn't know what was in the "consensus" bill as it was still being tweaked hours before they were scheduled to vote on it.

Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, one of the moderate members who has been working with leadership to craft the compromise bill said the delay will give members a chance to clarify details of the bill.

"Immigration policy is complex, most members are not expert at it," Curbelo said. "I think the more members understand this bill the more comfortable they will become with it."

Curbelo said members have raised questions about how it would address issues like border security and visas for those immigrants who are in the country illegally after being brought here as children, commonly known as DREAMers.

Members are also confused because leaders were forced to update the hastily-written bill after a $100 billion error was discovered. The House Rules committee was forced to hold a special hearing on 10 p.m. on Wednesday because the bill contained nearly $125 billion rather than the roughly $25 billion leaders intended to include for a border wall President Trump promised the U.S. would build during the 2016 presidential campaign.

GOP committee members were able to quickly remedy the mistake but incident sowed further doubt among skeptics who already worried about the contents of the sweeping legislation.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., announced votes on two immigration bills – a measure crafted by conservatives and another compromise bill that he and other leaders negotiated with various factions of their conference. The House did vote on the conservative version, which failed.

House Republican leaders scheduled a meeting for all GOP members Thursday afternoon to discuss the compromise bill in the hopes that wavering members will get behind it.

The difficult task of passing immigration legislation is opening up longstanding fissures among the House GOP. If the issue continues to highlight disagreements within the Republican conference it could ratchet up pressure on Ryan to step down as speaker.

Since President Trump ended the protections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, last September and punted its future to Congress, lawmakers have failed to reach a consensus on any legislation to deal with the program or with the administration's push for stepped-up border security measures. This latest effort is expected to fall short because the overlying dynamics of immigration politics haven't changed.

Ahead of the votes, Ryan conceded that the goal of bringing the likely doomed measures up for a vote was to prevent moderates from gathering more signatures on a measure known as a discharge petition, which would force votes on their own set of immigration bills.

"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," Ryan explained. "But a lot of our members want to be able to express themselves by voting for the policies that they like, so they can express their votes on the floor."

Ryan's solution: a vote on a hard-line immigration measure authored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., followed by a vote on a broader measure that includes everything Trump wants to see in an immigration bill.

Trump himself questioned why the House would bother voting on bills even House Republicans were predicting would fail. Trump blamed Democrats for the bind, despite disagreements among GOP lawmakers being the reason for the likely defeat in the House.

There is overwhelming bipartisan support — at least among congressional leadership — for some sort of permanent protection for children and young adults who were brought to the country illegally as minors. But a significant slice of conservative House Republicans are opposed to any path to legalization, and Trump insists that any DACA bill also include billions of dollars for border security, as well as major restrictions on legal immigration.

But the group of moderate Republicans who wanted to force a floor vote on a bill protecting DACA recipients and increasing border funding want to steer clear of the legal immigration changes that Trump insists on.

Ryan told reporters that the House votes go beyond a political exercise, because Trump told lawmakers earlier this week that he would sign either measure into law if it somehow got to his desk. Both bills the House will vote on would allow the federal government to house parents arrested for crossing the border illegally alongside their children.

No Democrats are expected to support either measure, so the same Republican splits that have doomed previous immigration attempts are expected to once again sink this week's effort.

If the leadership-backed immigration bill goes down, Ryan may face increased calls to vacate his leadership post before the year's end. Conservatives have argued that the issue of immigration was a driving force in Trump's 2016 presidential victory and voters expect the party to follow through on the promise to enact more hard-line policies policing the Southwest border. Ryan is not running for another term but has vowed to remain as speaker through the end of the year.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told reporters Thursday that there are no efforts now to remove Ryan from his job.

"Obviously at this particular point there are no efforts to remove the speaker," Meadows said a day after engaging in an intense argument with Ryan on the floor of the House chamber. "The speaker's race, when there is one whether its Republicans or Democrats, will happen after November 6."

Conservatives have been frustrated for months with the way leadership handled immigration. Freedom Caucus Member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Ryan should have allowed committees to draft an immigration bill and vote on it using what is known as regular order.

Jordan told reporters that the collapse this week is further evidence that some of his Republican colleagues are unwilling to back hard-line immigration proposals that were a central part of Trump's campaign in 2016 and the GOP platform more broadly.

"The simple answer is not enough Republicans are willing to do what we told the American people we were going to do when they elected us," Jordan said. "The reason it's not going to pass is not enough members are willing to do what we said. Plain and simple."

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