Originally published by Politico
House GOP leaders are reneging on a vow to hold an immigration vote before the August recess, a move that puts House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy in a particularly awkward spot as he seeks to become the next speaker.
In June, McCarthy (R-Calif.) personally promised several rank-and-file members a vote on a new guest-worker program for farmers, an offer backed by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The assurance was critical at the time: It persuaded Reps. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) and Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) not to sign on to an effort — which Republican leaders were desperately trying to stop — to force a vote on legislation creating a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, the immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. The so-called discharge petition ultimately fell two signatures short.
But now, Republican leaders have no plans to take up the guest-worker program before the summer break, according to four sources in leadership. Ryan does not want to hold a vote that’s certain to fail, they said —though proponents of the guest-worker bill said McCarthy’s original promise to hold a vote was unconditional.
“That was not the deal; the deal was that we’re taking it up regardless,” Ross said Monday afternoon, arguing that the lack of 218 votes shouldn’t preclude the promised vote. “There are those of us [who] need to go back [home] and show that we’re doing all we can to do what we said we would do."
After meeting with Ryan late Monday evening, Ross emerged with a different tune. Ryan and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) had promised him to not only hold the vote this fall, but try to muster the 218 votes to actually pass the measure. If waiting ensures passage rather than a mere "show-vote," he said, it's worth it.
Still, the standoff puts McCarthy in a bind. He’s been asking members to support him for speaker next year, when Ryan is set to retire. But the broken promise could alienate some would-be allies, especially if leadership doesn't follow through on the latest promise.
Complicating matters is a disagreement in the California delegation over the merits of the bill. While several California Republicans helped negotiate the provisions, most are wary of backing the legislation because it includes a new requirement that all employers verify the legal status of their workers, known as E-Verify.
Indeed, McCarthy and the entire California delegation have been under pressure from agriculture groups in the state calling on them to reject the guest-worker bill. They fear the E-Verify requirement would make it too difficult to find eligible workers. And the groups in recent weeks have called on McCarthy to use his leadership position to scrap the bill from floor consideration entirely, according to the California Farm Bureau's Josh Rolph, who's been in touch with McCarthy's staff.
"As the highest-ranking Californian in the U.S. Congress whose district lies within the most productive agricultural region in the nation, we want to reinforce to you that implementation of this bill would devastate food production in our state," more than 30 California agriculture groups wrote in a letter sent to McCarthy on Monday.
Supporters of the measure believe those groups got through to McCarthy, who keeps the House floor schedule.
“It’s clear that there are constituencies in California that are trying to kill the bill, and are using their relationships in Congress to try to kill it,” said one Republican aide supporting the measure, who asked not to be named.
McCarthy allies called that nonsense, pointing out that McCarthy voted for previous immigration bills that the same California agriculture groups opposed. The No. 2 Republican, they say, has no problem going up against home-state agriculture interests when needed — and the decision not to hold a vote has nothing to do with the groups, they said.
Several leadership sources outside McCarthy's office said some of the very members who support the legislation have asked them not to hold the vote because they don't want the bill to fail; instead, they want more time to garner support.
"We have every intention of voting on this," McCarthy's spokesman Matt Sparks said in a statement. "After discussions between leadership and a broad coalition of members it was decided more work needs to be done and should be done to gather the support necessary to pass the legislation."
Opposition among leadership to an imminent vote is not limited to McCarthy. It was Ryan who first told Ross, Newhouse and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) on Thursday that he did not want to have a vote on a bill that would fail. Instead, Ryan put the onus on the trio, who wrote the bill, to show him there were 218 votes for passage, according to Ross and one other person familiar with the meeting.
Newhouse and Ross then worked through the weekend making calls to round up support. On Monday afternoon, supporters of the bill believed they were close and that passage was possible.
One aide working on the bill noted that 193 Republican members voted for a broader Goodlatte-sponsored immigration package that included a similar agriculture proposal in June. Since then, just under a dozen members who voted “no” — including two Democrats — have co-sponsored the narrower agriculture bill, putting their number in the lower 200s, supporters speculate.
On top of that, more than 200 agriculture groups back the measure nationwide, Ross said, including the American Farm Bureau Federation. So, too, do several outside conservative groups that rarely support immigration bills being considered in the House but strongly support the E-Verify program.
Beyond that, the bill has co-sponsors spanning across the conference, from conservative House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) to centrist Republican Main Street Partnership leader Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois.
But some Republicans clearly aren't comfortable with the legislation — and many of them come from California.
The California Farm Bureau has been working aggressively to kill the bill, calling up not only McCarthy's office but other California Republicans whom they think might make a difference. In a July 18 email to California Republican staffers, the farm bureau’s Rolph warned that members would take a political hit if they back or sponsor the legislation. Rolph called E-Verify a “socialist” idea and said that even though some California Republicans had negotiated with Goodlatte to make the bill more acceptable to California farmers, they should stay away.
“I urge you not to cosponsor the newest version because it will hurt, not help, your farming constituents,” Rolph wrote. “Please save yourselves the trouble and stay off any reintroduction of Goodlatte’s bill.”
Some California Republicans didn’t take well to what one person on the email chain called “unprofessional lobbyist behavior.” Rebecca Keightley, legislative director for Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), responded to Rolph on the email chain by noting that Calvert backs the legislation and “I can assure you that he has no secret socialist agenda!”
“Unfortunately, the email below containing veiled threats is not productive or helpful,” Keightley wrote. “Those of us who have been here a long time know that if you don’t win today, you live to fight another day and we can disagree without being disagreeable.”
Rolph responded: “These are not veiled threats, they are fair warning of how our farmers will react to this bill, now introduced, and I am attempting to channel their collective frustration so you are aware now rather than surprised after the fact.”
According to an aide to a California Republican, many GOP members of the delegation got the point and would oppose the bill if it came to a vote — even though some of them, such as Rep. Jeff Denham, helped write it.
As it turns out, they won't have to take that vote after all.