A small group of Republicans in the House of Representatives is doing something radical: They are attempting to force a vote on legislation that a majority of the chamber may well support and which the overwhelming majority of the American public definitely does. The reaction from House leadership? Shock and horror. House Speaker Paul Ryan has warned his caucus that moving forward with what’s known as a discharge petition to bring legislation to the House floor to provide a means for so-called Dreamers to stay in the United States would be a “big mistake” that would invite chaos in the House. Mr. Ryan’s second in command and possible successor, has reportedly been warning the GOP caucus of political disaster if they vote to protect the Dreamers.
Mr. Ryan has indicated that he will bring up a series of immigration bills next month covering a wide ideological spectrum, a strategy that will allow members of Congress to go back to voters before the midterm elections and say they voted on something without the danger that anything will actually pass. Some of the Republican leaders of the discharge petition effort say they’re not buying it. And good for them. Responding to the popular will is what the House of Representatives was expressly designed to do. If they can get the signatures of a majority of House members (likely all 193 Democrats plus 25 Republicans) they can bypass the leadership and bring the bill to the floor.
A bit of context is in order. In September, President Donald Trump announced that he would end in six months former President Barack Obama’s program to provide a kind of protected legal status to certain immigrants who were brought here as children, and at the same time, he urged Congress to enact a permanent fix for them. Since then, he’s been all over the map — at one point, promising in a meeting with Democrats that he would work with them to protect participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, then later insisting on tying that assistance to strict restrictions on legal immigration that even many members of his own party don’t support. Democrats briefly shut down the government in an effort to get a vote on a DACA bill but relented when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised a floor vote on the issue, but that effort fizzled in February amid President Trump’s vow to veto the bill that had the best chance at passage. Meanwhile, a federal judge ruled last month that the program would not only have to continue but also accept new applications unless the Trump administration could demonstrate within 90 days a rationale for ending it.
The political reality is this: Polls have found support for protecting Dreamers from deportation as high as 87 percent. Republicans are watching as Democrats outperform expectations in election after election, and the possibility that the party could lose control of the House and perhaps even the Senate appears strong. Calls by party leaders to stick together and run on President Trump’s record aren’t convincing Republicans in tough districts, and they’re being driven to what amounts to desperate behavior — putting their constituents’ interests ahead of party unity.
Would a straight-up bill to protect Dreamers pass the Senate? Would President Trump allow it to go into law? Let’s find out.