Originally published by Politico
House Republicans left Washington last week relieved that their ugly, months-long fight over immigration was behind them.
The reality? It’s far from over.
President Donald Trump has been pestering Congress to send him big money for his border wall with Mexico, a demand that could lead to a government shutdown just weeks before Election Day.
And lawmakers might not even have that long to ignore the issue. A series of court rulings expected in the coming weeks on Dreamers as well as separated migrant families will crank up the heat up on GOP lawmakers and underscore their inability to govern when it comes to immigration.
“This is certainly a setback today, but it’s not the end,” Rep. John Faso, a moderate New York Republican, told POLITICO last week after a GOP immigration bill failed in the House. “The issue is not going to go away.”
Trump may enjoy campaigning on immigration, but it’s far from what Republican leaders want to highlight as they battle to keep their majorities this fall. GOP lawmakers have repeatedly shown an inability to unite behind any sort of immigration plan, and Trump has failed to lead on the matter as well — creating a constant whiplash as he changes his positions from day to day.
Trump’s reversals are one of the major reasons House Republicans were unable to pass a pair of GOP immigration bills addressing the fates of Dreamers just before the July Fourth recess — even though they’d spent months negotiating among themselves. At least one of those bills mirrored the president’s own proposal in providing a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who were brought here as kids, increasing border security and enforcement, and curbing legal immigration.
It went down in a whopping defeat, 121-301, as conservatives panned the bill as “amnesty.” The vote was a rebuke to both GOP leadership, which tried and failed to reach a consensus in the conference, and the president, who endorsed the legislation in an all-caps tweet hours before the vote.
Trump appeared to try to deflect blame for the failure in a tweet Saturday, falsely claiming he “never pushed the Republicans in the House to vote for the Immigration Bill.”
Speaker Paul Ryan’s leadership team also quietly backed away from tentative plans to pass a narrower bill keeping migrant families together at the border before they broke for the recess. According to senior Republican sources, GOP leaders didn’t have the support in their own conference to get something over the finish line.
The Senate, meanwhile, has been trying to come up with a bipartisan bill to keep families united. Lawmakers fear that a federal court will strike Trump’s executive order intended to ease the firestorm engulfing his administration by allowing children to be detained with their parents beyond a 20-day limit. And the Senate wants to have legislation ready if the problem boils over in July.
But even if the Senate strikes a deal, House Republicans say they won’t take up anything unless the White House fully endorses the plan.
And that’s far from certain. Although top White House officials support such a fix, one told POLITICO that he wasn’t sure the president would sign anything without getting concessions from Democrats. Indeed, a House GOP source said Trump was asking for wall money to be included in any standalone legislation keeping families together — a nonstarter for many lawmakers.
Conservatives, meanwhile, have also suggested that they need hard-line policy riders to sweeten the pot and win their support for any immigration bill. Some have eyed a family separation bill as a chance to tighten asylum laws they say are abused, but moderate Republicans would likely resist.
“We couldn’t pass it,” one House GOP source said. “We have to wait for political pressure.”
Even as Republicans struggle to pass a modest package on immigrant families, they could face pressure to go broader. A conservative-leaning federal court in Texas is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as early as mid-July, pushing the issue to the fore again.
The case, brought by Texas and several other Republican-dominated southern states, could contradict a previous court’s decision that halted Trump’s move to end DACA. The result could be that Dreamers again face the risk of deportation unless the Supreme Court — or Congress — weighs in.
In a news conference last week, just hours before leadership’s immigration bill died, Ryan argued that very point and said it’s only a matter of time before the DACA debate returns to the Hill. When it does, the Wisconsin Republican said, Republicans could use their “compromise” immigration bill as a framework to move forward: “seeds of consensus that will be gotten … later.”
But House conservatives are already balking. Although members of the Freedom Caucus helped write that measure with moderate Republicans and leadership, their rival immigration package garnered 193 votes compared to the compromise bill’s 121. They argue that leadership should focus on picking up the final 40 votes to pass their own, more conservative proposal and ditch the other plan altogether.
“This one had only 121 [votes], so the compromise actually turned the wrong way,” said GOP Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio, a Freedom Caucus member. “We tried to pass a bill from the left side of the Republican Conference and pull the rest of the conference to that.”
Should GOP leaders somehow dodge a thorny DACA and family-separation debate this summer, Republicans are still unlikely to wriggle out of an immigration fight before the election. The federal government runs out of money on Sept. 28, and Trump has made no secret of his demand for border wall funding in any spending legislation he signs.
In fact, during a meeting with appropriators last week, Trump pressed Republicans to give him $5 billion as a down payment on his wall — well over the $1.6 billion senators had proposed and the $2.2 billion the House had planned.
But GOP leaders know that Senate Democrats will reject the request without relief for Dreamers, and Republicans can’t pass a single appropriations bill in the Senate without them.
It’s possible that Trump allows Congress to pass a stopgap bill that extends government funding into a lame-duck session. But Republicans know by now that it’s not easy to pin down the president. And then they could have a shutdown on their hands.