Conservatives see opening in Trump’s immigration tweets

House Republicans largely shrugged off the President Trump’s tweet from Friday morning questioning the purpose of voting on immigration bills in the House, with conservative members even seeing a potential opening to push through their preferred bill.

“Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November,” he wrote Friday morning on Twitter. “Dems are just playing games, have no intention of doing anything to solves [sic] this decades old problem. We can pass great legislation after the Red Wave!”

GOP Majority Whip Steve Scalise interpreted the tweet as the president “acknowledging that there is no willingness of Democrats to work with us to solve this problem.” Scalise’s deputy, Rep. Patrick McHenry, said the president, “understands fully the dynamics and he is the arbiter of what is a good deal on immigration.”

“I think the president is frustrated like many of us are. We have a broken immigration system, both of these bills are better than the system that we have now,” said New York GOP Rep. Dan Donovan

Meanwhile, the GOP leadership is plowing ahead with a plan to vote on an immigration bill negotiated by conservative and moderate Republicans next week. The House was initially scheduled to vote on the bill Thursday night, but it was pushed to Friday and then next week after members asked for more time to read the bill. After a briefing for the entire Republican conference Thursday afternoon, the members negotiating the compromise measure said they would spend the weekend negotiating how to add measures dealing with e-verify and agricultural visas to the bill.

But a bigger problem than the tweet is that the right flank of the GOP sees an opening to continue pushing for their preferred immigration bill, the Securing America’s Future Act. That more conservative bill failed on a vote of 193 to 231 on Thursday, but its backers say they should be working to pass that rather than a more moderate measure.

“We got 193 votes yesterday on a bill the leadership said wasn’t even close, right?” said Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “I think we all know what we saw.”

It would be an embarrassment for the leaders, who have backed the compromise bill as the best option, if it got fewer votes on the floor than the conservative option.

For now, the GOP House leadership seems more concerned with holding a vote in order to satisfy moderate members, who were attempting to use a procedural measure to force a vote on four other immigration bills. Leaders don’t sound optimistic about its prospects of actually becoming law.

“We have an internal commitment to our members and we are going to fulfill that commitment, that pledge that was made, to turn off the discharge petition,” McHenry said. “I think to have some final outcome on immigration in a holistic way you need to have Democrats participate in this process.”

Among the concerns plaguing some Republicans is that the more moderate bill offers an easier pathway to legal status and eventually citizenship than the conservative bill for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and it would not bar DACA recipients from sponsoring their parents for green cards once they became citizens. The conservative bill eliminates all family visas for anyone other than spouses and minor children.

Asked about the president’s tweet, Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, said, “I think it underscores the fact that we should do what we said, which is the bill that passed yesterday. It’s consistent with what we told America we would do. Let’s pass that, if we can’t find 19 votes for that then the president is exactly right. It makes no sense to do a compromise, weaker version of that.”

President Trump has offered his support for the compromise measure behind closed doors, but his public message has been to question the purpose of immigration reform that will be blocked by the Senate.

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