WASHINGTON (Circa) — Meetings will continue over the weekend as House Republicans struggle to reach an agreement on a wide-ranging immigration bill dealing with border security, Deferred Access for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and halting family separations.
President Donald Trump threw the process into disarray early Friday morning with a tweet saying Republicans should give up on the bill until after the election.
"Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November," Trump tweeted. "Dems are just playing games, have no intention of doing anything to solve this decades old problem. We can pass great legislation after the Red Wave!"
Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November. Dems are just playing games, have no intention of doing anything to solves this decades old problem. We can pass great legislation after the Red Wave!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2018
The House was scheduled to vote on two immigration bills this week after moderate conservatives pressured the leadership to reluctantly consider an immigration fix before the midterms. The legislation was intended to address the status of DACA recipients, immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, as well as border security and family separations.
On Thursday, the more conservative bill drafted by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul of Texas was defeated 193-231. That bill included all of the components President Trump wanted in immigration reform — protection for Dreamers, border wall funding, limits on legal immigration, plus a recently-added provision to keep families together.
The second bill, drafted by the GOP leadership with the approval of the White House, seemed doomed to fail this week and was pulled at the last minute. Among its problems, the bill was hastily drafted and included an error that would have funded Trump's border wall at $125 billion per year, rather than $25 billion.
After a lengthy Thursday night meeting, the House GOP leadership announced they would postpone the vote on the second immigration bill next week.
Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., insisted the president's tweet would not derail efforts to bring the second immigration bill to the floor. "Not giving up," he told reporters.
"We're going to keep working to try to get it done," Scalise said, affirming they're moving forward on a vote next week.
Rep. McCaul said he thought the president was blowing off steam. "I think right now he's upset the bill didn't pass," McCaul said of the Thursday vote. "I think he'll come around."
Chairman of the House Freedom Caucus Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a key broker in the negotiations, said he expects "multiple talks" to take place over the weekend as the GOP continues to rework the compromise bill.
Republicans face an uphill battle to rally support around a second immigration bill that has yet to be finalized. In addition to the potential spoilers among the conservative Freedom Caucus or more centrist faction of the party, a number of members are weighing their vote in the context of getting reelected in November.
According to a new Pew Research Center poll, immigration is the top issue for voters heading into the 2018 midterm elections. Republican voters were slightly more likely than Democrats to mention it as their most important issue.
For congressional Republicans who feel a vote on immigration is politically risky, the president's tweet will further complicate their political calculus, said Julia Gelatt a senior immigration policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. That will make the already doubtful passage of immigration reform even less likely.
"They're looking for reassurance from the president and they don't seem to be getting that, at least not this morning," she said.
When Trump met with House Republicans on the Hill Tuesday, he reportedly guaranteed his support for either immigration bill. One congressman told Circa the president assured them he would back their efforts "1,000 percent."
Some lawmakers candidly admitted the early morning tweet will make it near impossible to get votes from members who are already wary of making a compromise.
"I think it has stalled any momentum," said Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Penn. "I also think it devalues any incentive for those sitting on the fence to decide, yeah, I should be for this because we need to get it done and the president supports the bill."
Without pressure from the White House to consolidate votes on the right and with the entire Democratic caucus bitterly opposed to either GOP proposal, it appears increasingly unlikely to see Congress pass meaningful legislation before 2019.
"It's always safer to bet that Congress will fail to act on immigration than to bet that they will act on immigration," Gelatt noted, particularly when trying to pass more comprehensive legislation.
The compromise or "consensus" bill the House leadership intends to bring to the floor next week is nearly 300 pages in its current form and addresses legal immigration and the visa process, the status for DACA recipients, border protection, personnel, technology and infrastructure and revisions to the asylum process to prevent family separations.
"The more a bill tries to tackle," Gelatt explained, "the more difficult it is to pass."
In the meantime, the pressure is mounting on both the Trump administration and Congress to address the immediate issue of the more than 2,300 children separated from their parents while trying to cross the border in the past six weeks.
The president signed an executive order earlier this week halting family separations by keeping parents and children detained together while waiting for their asylum claims to be adjudicated. Many view the order as a temporary fix that may lose effect by next month.
Under the 2015 Flores Settlement Agreement, children cannot be held in immigration detention facilities for more than 20 days. Immigration courts that have been overwhelmed by asylum claims in recent years, continue to face significant backlogs with hearing wait-times as long as two years.
Democrats continue urging immediate action though they have been on the outskirts of immigration negotiations and refuse to support either Republican bill.
"We have a crisis on our hands now and we can't afford to give up," said Rep. Nikki Tsongas, D-Mass. "First we have got to resolve the issue of reuniting families and then address the DACA kids," she stressed. "They can't wait and we cant either."
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico accused Republicans of walking away from a bipartisan bill that was just shy of the votes needed to pass.
"If everyone is serious about doing this, they should go back to that compromise bill and get something done," Lujan said.
President Trump opposed the bill, the USA Act, because it did not address legal immigration or sufficiently fund the border wall. The Republican leadership has since refused to bring it to the floor, despite pressure from Republicans.
"I think it speaks volumes to the commitment form this administration to completely abandon responsibilities when it comes to working together with members of Congress," Lujan added.
President Trump has repeatedly lashed out at Democrats in recent days accusing them of obstructing immigration reform legislation for political gain.