WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of Republican factions divided over immigration said Wednesday that they expect party leaders to present broad ideas for resolving the long-running dispute at a House GOP meeting Thursday. But there was no indication that a resolution to the party’s civil war over the issue was at hand.
If Republicans fail to reach a pact Thursday, that would give momentum to party moderates seeking to force election-year immigration votes that leaders are hoping to head off.
The centrists favor legislation giving young “Dreamer” immigrants, who entered the U.S. illegally as children, a chance to earn citizenship. GOP leaders and conservatives say the moderates’ effort would likely produce legislation that is too liberal, alienate Republican voters and be an election-year embarrassment for Republicans who mostly view the approach as amnesty.
After a two-hour meeting Wednesday among party leaders and top moderates and conservatives, some lawmakers said they expected Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to present proposals when House Republicans hold a closed-door meeting Thursday.
“I would say there’s some loose consensus right now,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., a leader of the centrists’ effort to either strike a deal with conservatives or force immigration votes. He said he expected leaders to present “an outline of a potential bill” Thursday.
Conservative Reps. Mark Walker, R-N.C., and Scott Perry, R-Pa., also said leaders could have a plan to present Thursday.
The key dispute: Moderates are seeking a way to give legal status to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, while conservatives opposing granting them a special pathway to citizenship. Conservatives also want stricter immigration limits and enforcement, as well as funding for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the head of the conservative Freedom Caucus, emerged saying the closed-door talks were moving “forward, not backward.” But he added, “We’re still not in a situation where there’s agreement.”
Ryan is taking on the daunting task of trying to craft an alternative that could win the support of conservatives. It’s a tough sell ahead of a looming deadline for possible votes. Ryan exited the meeting declining comment, but said earlier he felt “good about the kind of conversations we’re having.”
The policy and politics of the immigration standoff are complex, even more so in an election year when House control is at stake and the conservative and centrist factions in the House majority have different priorities as lawmakers campaign back home.
Trump is staying out of the fray for now, leaving House Republicans on their own to try to resolve their differences.
Centrist Republicans have pushed the issue forward by relying on an unusual process to collect signatures from lawmakers on a so-called discharge petition. The group is a couple of signatures shy of forcing a vote on its preferred bill over leadership’s objections.
The centrists, whose elections in the fall could determine majority control of the House, are anxious to show voters back home that they have tried to resolve the uncertainty facing the young immigrants. They largely represent districts in California, Florida, New York and other states with larger immigrant populations than those of their conservative colleagues. Some face stiff challenges from Democratic candidates.
Trump announced he would end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed nearly 700,000 young immigrants to obtain permits to work and temporarily stay in the U.S. But the program largely continues temporarily, pending an unresolved legal battle.
Conservative Republicans, who hold influence as the biggest block in the House GOP majority, are opposed to any special path to legal status for the young people unless it comes with other measures they favor. They want to beef up border security, clamp down on workplace employment verification and impose fresh limits on legal immigration by family members.
Some lawmakers want Trump to use his negotiating power to help strike a deal on legislation that he would sign.
“We don’t want to waste our time,” said Rep. John Faso, R-N.Y., who joined in the petition effort. “At the end of the day, he has to get involved.”
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