While President Donald Trump is preparing diplomatic talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Singapore, Republicans at home are risking the president’s agenda with diplomatic discussions on immigration.
Speaker Paul Ryan continues negotiating a comprehensive immigration plan despite his weakened political clout, after announcing his decision to retire from Congress. Moderate Republicans quickly weaponized their discharge petition demanding a House vote on DACA amnesty, teaming up with Democrats to force more moderate immigration policy.
The immigration mess is full of political pitfalls, so absent of any real leadership, every Republican is scurrying for political cover on the issue as any deal is increasingly unlikely.
Despite the political risks, White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short told Breitbart News that it is in Republicans’ best interests to work with leadership on a proposal, rather than watch the amnesty team force an uncomfortable vote in the House with the discharge petition.
“Republicans allowing a discharge petition is basically ceding control of the House floor to Nancy Pelosi,” Short said in an interview with Breitbart News.
To give Pelosi that momentum, Short argued would be politically devastating to Republicans in the midterms, which is why he is working with Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy to develop a new comprehensive proposal.
“The White House is having conversations with leadership and hoping to get a strong immigration bill out of the process,” Short said.
Immigration hawks in Congress, however, believe Short is working too hard to help Ryan in a losing battle, putting the president’s tough stance on immigration reform in jeopardy.
Short cited the president’s four principles on immigration as his guidelines for negotiations — No DACA amnesty without legislation ending chain migration, funding the wall, ending immigration loopholes, ending the visa lottery system. Short has also briefed the president on the ongoing discussions.
He confirmed that he is still discussing proposals with members of the conservative Freedom Caucus as well as the more moderate Republican members of Congress and Democrats who wanted to see an amnesty vote.
But many Republican immigration hawks have no intention of voting for an amnesty plan even with some concessions to the president’s principals for reform. They argue that the tough immigration bill introduced by Rep. Goodlatte is sufficient legislation, with no need to water it down in exchange for amnesty.
An attempted deal proposed by Ryan on Thursday was quickly shut down by Rep. Mark Meadows, the leader of the Freedom Caucus, despite reports that it was moving forward.
Negotiations with the Freedom Caucus continue this week, but Meadows office did not respond to a request for comment.
Other conservatives want to go on offense, forcing Democrats in tough votes to defend their weak positions on illegal immigration.
Republicans concede behind closed doors that any working deal on immigration is highly unlikely to pass the House, but that it allows everyone to take a vote that best positions themselves for the election.
With that end likely, critics see any engagement with a weakened Speaker Ryan as damaging to the president. Ryan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The political mess continues to simmer, but it is unclear how much longer President Trump will tolerate Republican inaction on his immigration agenda.
As the president repeatedly calls for Congressional action on Twitter, White House aides focus their efforts on hosting multiple roundtable events with administration law enforcement officials.
The roundtables allow Trump to repeat his commitment to tough immigration laws and usually spark a response from Democrats in the process.
When the establishment media and Democrats jumped to criticize Trump for calling illegal immigrants “animals,” the White House easily pushed back with the context of his comments to show he was talking about MS-13.
But the focus of Democrat and establishment outrage has changed to the separation of illegal immigrants and their families, absent of any significant developments on immigration policy in the House.
Republicans worst political nightmare is a divided caucus led by a weakened speaker that is unable to respond to the border crisis with tough solutions that match the president’s agenda and motivate their base to vote them back into office.