Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) huddled with President Trump at the White House on Tuesday to discuss a path forward on immigration.
The meeting comes as GOP leaders in the House face pressure from rank-and-file members to bring immigration legislation to the floor.
Eighteen Republicans have signed on to a discharge petition to force a series of votes on several immigration bills. If the petition wins a majority of House members as signatories, it would force a vote on the floor.
If all Democrats back the petition, the sponsors would only need 25 Republicans to do so, a number that appears to be within their grasp despite opposition from GOP leaders, who say the petition gives power to the minority.
GOP leaders have informally whipped members against backing the discharge petition, which could lead to passage of legislation fixing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that might allow young people brought to the United States illegally as children to remain here to work and go to school.
“Well, we’re still talking after we talked to the president on which way to go,” McCarthy told The Hill. “I still have a firm belief discharge is the worst way to legislate.”
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) is continuing discussions with members on “an acceptable path forward on immigration,” which does not include a discharge petition, according to sources close to the talks.
GOP leaders are supporting a conservative-backed immigration measure spearheaded by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), but the measure is short on the votes needed to pass the lower chamber.
McCarthy said there was an emphasis on a need for stronger border protections during the discussion at the White House.
Trump has repeatedly pressured Congress to take actions to toughen the nation’s immigration laws and to build a wall on the Mexican border.
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who is leading the discharge petition effort, told The Hill on Monday night that members have been in talks with leadership about working out a deal that could potentially stave off their push to force an immigration vote.
“We are having conversations about bringing a bill to the floor,” he said. “It is going to have to be a bill that not only has a date certain that it will be on the floor, but one that can get bipartisan support and one that the president would sign.”
But Denham emphasized that there is no obvious solution currently in sight, so they are still pushing ahead with the discharge petition.
“I have not seen what a final agreement would look like – or even close,” Denham said. “So we’re having good discussions, but right now our focus is making sure we have 218 people to sign.”
Denham claimed that those backing the effort have secured enough supporters on the Republican side for the petition, but not all of them have publicly signed on yet – a strategic move that could be designed to give them more time to work out a deal with leadership and the White House.
“We are working with our Democratic colleagues on how we will roll all these names out,” Denham said.
– Melanie Zanona contributed