BY LINDSEY MCPHERSON AND DEAN DECHIARO
A group of slightly more than a dozen House Republicans trying to negotiate a sweeping immigration bill came closer Friday to agreement on some issues, like how to deal with the “Dreamer” population, but found new obstacles on other matters like border security and interior enforcement.
Despite progress in some areas, several negotiators noted the likelihood that a discharge petition that would force a series of votes on immigration bills that lack unified GOP support would get to the required 218 signatures Tuesday.
Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who filed the discharge petition, called it “a strong possibility.”
"I will be strongly encouraging members on Tuesday to sign the final signatures unless we have a written agreement,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, another moderate Republican pushing the discharge petition. “We do not have a written agreement today.”
The Californian has also said the written agreement would need to come with a date for a vote and assurances that it can pass the House.
Even if the discharge petition — which is for what is called a queen of the hill rule that would set up votes on four immigration bills, with the one with the most votes above a simple majority prevailing — gets to 218 signatures a vote would not be able to occur until June 25.
Watch: What is a Discharge Petition Anyway?
The negotiators can continue trying to reach an agreement before then that if successful would involve a procedural maneuver to turn off the discharge petition.
“For me, June 25 is the deadline,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said. “Whether they get 218 on Tuesday — I fully anticipate that they will — but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get a different deal and put it on the floor before June 25.”
The North Carolina Republican said the meeting resulted in “consensus in a few areas” but that some issues they thought would be easy to address, like border security and interior enforcement, have become problematic.
‘Second thorniest issue’
“Border security is still a big issue — what is meant by that, how do you assure it, how you make sure that we don’t have this problem going forward,” Meadows said. “That seems to be probably the second thorniest issue that we have is how do you deal with that.”
Regarding those matters, Curbelo said moderates “think we’re pretty settled on where we should be; there’s some members who would like to see more.”
Most of the members involved in the negotiations left the Friday meeting planning to go home to their districts for the weekend, although a few like Denham and Meadows said they were prepared to remain in Washington to continue negotiations. Talks will likely take place mostly over the phone, however, with many members out of town.
The House is not scheduled to return to Washington until Tuesday, which is the last day moderate Republicans can gather signatures on their discharge petition and keep open the possibility of a June 25 vote on the queen of the hill rule. The petition just needs three more signatures -- probably just two more Republicans as Texas Democrat Rep. Henry Cuellar, the only Democrat who is not on the petition, suggested Friday he is likely to sign Tuesday.
The Friday meeting showed some signs that an agreement remains possible, although likely not before Tuesday. For example, the negotiators said they made progress in identifying the size of the Dreamer population that would be protected under a potential deal, as well as how exactly Dreamers would be granted a path to citizenship.
“Addressing the path to citizenship has actually found more common ground than perhaps we had yesterday,” Meadows said.
He said the negotiating group agreed on the definition of the Dreamer population that would be covered under the plan (he declined to reveal the definition) but Curbelo said only that “we’re pretty close to defining the Dreamer population.”
Roughly 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children are currently covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program but the full Dreamer population is estimated to be well over double that. President Donald Trump has floated an immigration proposal that involve protections for 1.8 million Dreamers.
“We would like to see as high a number as possible,” Curbelo said.
The idea the negotiators seem to be coalescing around is a merit-based visa for Dreamers and other young immigrants who are here legally but on temporary permits.
To not add to the number of total visas, thus increasing the legal immigrant population, the negotiators are looking to reallocate visas from other categories like the Diversity Visa Lottery.
“Some visas may be shifted towards employment visas, but our goal is to not cut legal immigration,” Curbelo said.
The unresolved matter appears to be what happens after the expiration of the new visa. Moderates seem to want it to transition into permanent legal resident status that could eventually lead to citizenship.
“If you’re a Dreamer — and we wouldn’t settle for anything less — you would know that you’re immediately protected, meaning you’d never again have to worry about deportation as long as you follow this country’s laws and that you will have a bridge onto the legal immigration system,” Curbelo said.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said many conservatives may still take issue with such a path.
“It’s this new merit-based green card program … the definition can be interpreted as a special pathway,” the North Carolina Republican told reporters. “I think a lot of us would still consider it a special pathway and that’s kind of where we are.”
Conservatives are, for the most part, opposed to allowing the Dreamers to gain citizenship without going through the process used by legal immigrants.
Differing views on progress
The negotiators had differing takes on how much progress was made Friday and how much more effort it would take them to get to a deal.
Curbelo had said shortly before the Friday meeting that 80 percent of issues were agreed to, which he revised up to 85 percent after the meeting.
“I don’t know how to characterize what percentage we have agreed upon,” Meadows said. “I can say that there is a whole lot more than what we agree on than we disagree on. And yet, there’s still not a deal.”
Denham expressed concerns over the progress of negotiations, saying that he was “disappointed that more issues continue to get added” to the discussions.
"We're trying to close items out, not add new ones,” he said.
Nonetheless, negotiators are hoping to get a deal, possibly by Tuesday but certainly by June 25.
“Can we get something together by Tuesday?” Walker said. “Well, the Caps won this year didn’t they? There’s always time for miracles.”