Rebellious Republicans Move to Force a House Vote on ‘Dreamers’ Despite Leaders’ Objections

WASHINGTON (Tribune Washington Bureau/TNS) -

A bipartisan group of House members led by Rep. Jeff Denham filed a petition Wednesday to force a vote on four immigration bills over the objections of Republican leadership.

It’s rare for a Republican lawmaker to attempt to force a vote against the wishes of a House speaker from his own party. Getting the backing of enough colleagues to actually take advantage of the arcane maneuver is almost unheard of.

The petition needs signatures from a majority of House members to be considered. If at least 18 Republicans sign the petition, it is expected that all Democrats also will sign, providing the signatures needed to force a vote.

Denham, R-Calif., said in an interview beforehand that he expects over a dozen House Republicans to sign Wednesday morning, and he’s “extremely confident” that the rest of the GOP members he needs will follow closely behind.

If all 193 Democrats sign the so-called discharge petition, it will take fewer than 20 Republicans to trigger debate on the four immigration bills.

A discharge petition can be brought up only on the first and third Monday of the month when the House is in session. June 25 is the next time the House is in session on one of those Mondays.

“The speaker can still bring up a bill any time he wants, but if he doesn’t, June 25 is coming,” Denham said.

Democrats and some rank-and-file Republicans say they are frustrated that House Speaker Paul D. Ryan won’t allow consideration of bills to address the status of hundreds of thousands of people brought to the country illegally as children, including many Californians. They were provided temporary deportation relief and work permits under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

President Donald Trump ended the program last fall and told the House and Senate they had until March 5 to fix it. Congress’ attempts at a solution stalled after a federal judge temporarily stopped the program from shutting down in pending legal challenges. The Supreme Court refused the Trump administration’s request to expedite the case, and it could be fall at the earliest before it makes its way through the normal appeals process.

“The president gave us a deadline, and Congress failed to meet that deadline without even a debate,” Denham said.

Ryan’s spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, said in response to the petition, “We continue to work with our members to find a solution that can both pass the House and get the president’s signature.”

If the discharge petition gets the backing of more than half of all House members, it would trigger what is called a “queen of the Hill” vote on four immigration bills: one favored by the Trump administration, one preferred by Democrats, one bipartisan proposal and an immigration bill of Ryan’s choice. If more than one is passed, the bill with the most votes would move forward to the Senate.

All four would help so-called Dreamers to some degree, though they differ on how much border security or immigration enforcement they include in exchange. For example, the Trump-backed bill also would dramatically reduce legal immigration and provide money to build a wall at the southern border, while the Democrats’ favored bill would deal only with legal status of Dreamers.

Ryan has said voting on the four bills is a waste of time because Pres. Trump may not be willing to sign whatever the House passes.

Denham got 247 House members to sign on as co-sponsors of a resolution to hold the vote. He was hoping to pressure Ryan to bring up legislation, but the speaker has shown no sign he will.

Democrats said they waited for Republicans to take the lead, because if Democrats had tried to force a vote through a discharge petition, it would be seen as partisan.

Rep. Pete Aguilar, a California Democrat and the sponsor of one of the bills that would be considered, said frustration has grown since there has been no corresponding movement in the House after the Senate voted on several immigration bills in February. None of the Senate bills got enough support to pass.

“At least the Senate debated and discussed some competing measures. Here in the House, the people’s House, it’s sad that we don’t even get an option because one individual, the speaker, doesn’t want that to happen, even if committee chairs want to have debate, even if rank-and-file members want to have debate,” Aguilar said. “I think that frustration is fairly palpable on both sides of the aisle among rank-and-file members.”

Denham, who represents a heavily Latino and agricultural district, has worked behind the scenes on immigration issues for years. While he has publicly disagreed with his party’s leaders on immigration before, a discharge petition is a dramatic escalation of the difference of opinion. Denham is facing a slew of challengers in the June 5 primary.

A discharge petition has been successfully used only twice in the past 20 years — in 2002 to pass campaign finance legislation and in 2015 to renew the charter of the Export-Import Bank.