House Chief Deputy Whip Patrick T. McHenry on Thursday said an immigration discharge petition that GOP leaders oppose will get to 218 signatures after the recess, and the only way they can stop it is finding legislation Republicans can pass — something he acknowledges is a big reach.
The discharge petition, which is just five signatures shy of the 218 needed, would force a vote on a queen of the hill rule that would set up votes on four immigration measures, with the one getting the most votes above the required simple majority threshold prevailing. The process is likely to produce a bill that a majority of Democrats and a minority of Republicans support.
GOP leaders argue it is equivalent to turning the floor over to Democrats and have urged their conference not to sign the discharge petition.
Yet two more Republicans, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Tom Reed of New York, signed the petition Thursday before the House departed for its Memorial Day recess, bringing the total number of GOP signatories to 23.
With all but three Democrats signed on as well, the petition now has a total of 213 signatures, only five away from the 218 needed for one of the signatories to be able to call the queen of the hill rule up for a vote on June 25. Only two more Republican signatures are needed if the remaining three Democrats sign it.
“There’ll be two more” Republicans, McHenry predicted, noting he’s confident the moderate Republicans who’ve been working the petition have enough supporters ready to sign.
The only way to stop the discharge petition then is “coming up with a path forward that preserves all of our equities in our conference and figuring out the path to 218” on an immigration bill moderate and conservative Republicans can support, McHenry said.
“We don’t see any great participation from Democrats in solving this problem, so we’re going to have to fix it ourselves,” the North Carolina Republican said. “We’re trying to fix it ourselves.”
But McHenry admits that’s a heavy lift.
“To craft policy in an election year is really hard,” he said. “To craft immigration policy is even harder. And to do both at the same time is one of the biggest reaches of this Congress.”
Nonetheless, McHenry said there’s been a “great willingness” among all groups and individuals in the GOP conference to come to a resolution. He said they'd like to have an agreement before June 7, when the House Republican Conference will meet to discuss the issue.
Moderates and conservatives have publicly expressed optimism about their negotiations. And California Rep. Jeff Denham, one of the moderates leading the discharge petition effort, said they’re willing to hold back the final signatures they had planned to have on the petition this week because the talks are progressing positively.
Reed signed onto the petition alongside his fellow Problem Solvers Caucus co-chairman, Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J.
“From my perspective I wanted to add to the pressure of sending a message that you need to resolve this issue,” Reed said.
“I didn’t want to go home over break and let it seem as if this was failing in steam,” he added. “This is gaining steam. And the people negotiating this deal need to understand that. And we sent a message today. We’re two [Republican] votes away. Get it done.”
Gottheimer said he signed on because after months of inaction on immigration, it’s time to have a debate on the floor.
“The American public, no matter what you feel about the different bills, I think wants us to actually bring this up and get this for a vote, either way,” he said.
Even though Republicans are negotiating alone right now on the immigration matter, Reed and Gottheimer both said they believe any agreement that can be reached would ultimately represent the interests of both Republicans and Democrats in the Problem Solvers Caucus.
Reed says he trusts that Denham and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fl., who are negotiating on behalf of moderates, will advocate for issues that are important to the Problem Solvers.
“This is a bipartisan deal, or at least if it’s going to be Republican-only deal, a Republican deal that reflects a lot of the bipartisan efforts that we’ve already put out there as a marker,”
Gottheimer said he thinks it would be better if Democrats were involved in the negotiations but noted the views moderates are advocating for reflect many Democratic views and thus a deal potentially will as well.
“It’s important [for] long-term durability that it be bipartisan,” he said.
One of the many obstacles to getting a bipartisan agreement is the border security element of a potential deal.
President Donald Trump said Thursday he wouldn’t sign any bill the House produces unless it includes funding for “a real wall.” Most Republicans would probably have that as a minimum demand as well, but Democrats universally oppose construction of a physical border wall.
Another obstacle just within Republicans’ own negotiations is that conservatives oppose a special pathway to citizenship for Dreamers that moderates are pushing for — and Democrats would demand as well.
“The details matter,” California Rep. Pete Aguilar, a Democrat who has worked closely with Denham on the queen of the hill rule and discharge petition . “It’s just so tough to know what a hypothetical bill that comes out of Republican leadership would like that. It seems right now like they just keep getting bogged up on whether Dreamers should have to path to citizenship.”
Also complicating matters is that Trump wants a larger deal than one that just funds the wall and deals with DACA, something moderates aren't sure is feasible given the short time frame for negotiations.
GOP leaders want to pass an immigration bill the third week of June since the discharge petition would otherwise be able to be called up the following Monday, assuming it gets the 218 signatures as expected.
Dean DeChiaro and John T. Bennett contributed to this report.