GOP leaders eye new bill on family separations at border

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, walks to a closed-door conference with fellow Republicans after they met last night with President Donald Trump to discuss a GOP immigration bill, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2018. (AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans leaders are considering separate legislation that would address family separations at the border, a GOP lawmaker said Monday, after struggling over the weekend to find consensus on a broader immigration plan.

The move would give Republicans the ability ahead of the midterm elections to address the issue of children alone at the border, which has sparked public outrage.

Rep. Mark Meadows, head of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, said GOP lawmakers held hour-long conference calls over the weekend to try to smooth over last-minute details ahead of a Tuesday evening vote. One hang-up, he said, was whether young immigrants known as “Dreamers” would be allowed to bring their parents to the U.S.

When asked if the bill will pass or fail, Meadows told Fox News’ “Fox & Friends”: “I would think fail right now.”

The GOP divisions come at a bad time for the party: Elections are approaching and immigration has riveted public attention for months. Republicans who are battling to retain House control have hoped to focus this fall’s campaigns on the economy and tax cuts.

Instead, the GOP has had to respond to reports of families being separated at the border as a result of President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. The policy appeased many red-state voters. But of concern are Republicans from swing districts with large numbers of moderate voters — the very incumbents who must be re-elected for the GOP to retain House control.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he prefers to see parents and children detained together: “We do not want children taken away from their parents,” he said.

The consensus immigration bill would make citizenship a possibility for “Dreamer” immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. when young. It would also finance Trump’s aspirational $25 billion wall with Mexico and curb government agencies from wrenching migrant children from detained parents.

The measure is the product of weeks of bargaining between party conservatives and moderates. Even so, the two GOP factions have been unable to resolve their final differences and vote-counters have yet to round up a majority. Republicans are getting no help from Democrats, who uniformly oppose the legislation.

Another obstacle to consensus for Republicans is Trump. His recent statements on their bill and history of abruptly flip-flopping on past health care and spending measures have not been reassuring.

Last Tuesday, Trump privately told House Republicans that he backed their legislation “1,000 percent” and would protect them during their campaigns, lawmakers said. By Friday, he was tweeting that “Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration” and wait until after the November elections, when he said the GOP would approve tougher legislation because it will gain strength in Congress. That proposition is dicey at best.

“I think that the best way to pass legislation is to consistently support a position and help move it forward,” Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, a senior House Republican. Asked if Trump was doing that, Walden pivoted toward a door and said: “I’ll leave it at that.”

Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday” that he talked to the White House on Saturday and “they say the president is still 100 percent behind us.”

Lawmakers said leaders wanted to round up GOP votes by adding provisions requiring companies to verify workers’ citizenship, which conservatives like. They would also ease restrictions on seasonal migrant workers, a priority for farm-district, moderate Republicans.

Until now, party leaders have hesitated to include those items because they could end up costing votes, not gaining them. Moderate Republicans don’t like the citizenship verification requirement and some conservatives don’t like helping immigrants stay in the U.S.

Another problem is the two additional provisions don’t address the major reason for GOP defections: Conservatives say helping Dreamers stay in the U.S. is handing amnesty to lawbreakers.

“I’m a ‘no,'” said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., a member of the House Freedom Caucus. He said he couldn’t defend helping the Dreamers “to people waiting in line the right way” to immigrate to the U.S.

The House defeated a more conservative immigration alternative last week.

GOP leaders said the House will vote on its compromise immigration bill despite Trump’s flashing red light on the subject.

Top Republicans have wanted to hold the votes, win or lose, partly to defuse an effort by GOP moderates to force the chamber to vote on liberal-leaning bills helping immigrants win citizenship. Those measures could pass the House backed by Democrats and a few Republicans, an outcome that would enrage conservative voters.

In addition, some Republicans are eager for roll calls to show voters back home that they’ve tried to address the issue.

“I think it’s important that the House be able to show we can take the action,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.