By Melanie Zanona
This article appeared on The Hill on Feb. 13, 2018
House conservatives are warning Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to take a hard line on immigration — or else risk facing a revolt in his own ranks.
While no GOP lawmakers are calling for a leadership change, frustrated conservatives are pressuring Ryan to put a hard-line immigration bill authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) on the House floor in the coming weeks.
The growing calls underscore how Ryan, who has not yet announced whether he plans to run for reelection, is walking a political tightrope after passing a massive budget deal that was unpopular with conservatives.
“The [budget] bill that passed last week wasn’t consistent with what we told the voters we were going to do. We had better get it right on immigration,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a House Freedom Caucus leader, told The Hill.
“Hopefully, we’ll see an earnest effort this week to get to 218 votes for a conservative [immigration] bill,” said Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).
“We better see some progress on the Goodlatte bill,” he added.
Ryan helped muscle a sweeping, bipartisan budget deal through Congress last week that sets the stage for $300 billion more in federal spending over the next two years. The measure also raises the debt ceiling for one year, knocking two major to-do items off lawmakers’ plate.
House conservatives balked over the plan, forcing Ryan and his leadership team to rely on Democrats to help get the legislation over the finish line.
In the end, a total of 167 Republicans backed the package. The previous two-year budget deal garnered just 79 GOP votes.
Many defense hawks ended up holding their noses to vote for the bill, which delivered a long-sought funding boost for the U.S. military.
Ryan seemed to emerge generally unscathed from the fight, despite the deal’s unpopularity with conservatives.
But Ryan might not get another pass when it comes to the immigration debate, which is the next big policy fight facing Congress.
Trump is rescinding the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He has given Congress until March 5 to come up with a permanent legal solution for the program, which protects certain immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.
Ryan last week said he’s serious about passing legislation to help people who have been enrolled in DACA.
“I know that there is a real commitment to solving the DACA challenge in both political parties. That’s a commitment that I share. To anyone who doubts my intention to solve this problem and bring up a DACA and immigration reform bill, do not,” Ryan said.
“We will bring a solution to the floor — one that the president will sign,” he said.
Conservatives say the solution Ryan is looking for is the Goodlatte bill, which has buy-in from key committee chairmen and has attracted support from both the moderate and conservative wings of the GOP conference.
“I think there would be a lot of folks who would be surprised if the House [immigration] bill is not the Goodlatte bill,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio). “I’ve certainly heard some rumblings that people would be surprised and reactionary.”
In exchange for the Freedom Caucus’s support for a short-term government funding bill last month, Ryan agreed to put a team together to build support for the Goodlatte legislation. He also promised to put the bill on the floor if it could get 218 GOP votes.
But members of the conservative group have complained that leaders are not doing enough to build support for the bill.
“I certainly haven’t seen a strong whip effort on the part of leadership to get the Goodlatte bill on the floor,” Jordan said.
The House majority whip’s office has emphasized that listening sessions taking place on the measure are a critical first step in the process of building support for the legislation, which is necessary before it can be brought to the House floor. A similar process was used for tax reform, the office said.
But Davidson said “there’s not quite the same feel” when it comes to the Goodlatte bill.
Despite the rumblings of discontent, conservatives aren’t throwing out the threat of offering a “motion to vacate the chair” — which would force a vote on whether to strip Ryan of his Speaker’s gavel — if Ryan doesn’t follow through on his promise to only put an immigration bill on the floor if it has a majority of the GOP’s support.
But the threat of such a motion dogged his predecessor, former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who often faced challenges to his gavel, including over the issue of immigration.
Ryan is trying to thread the needle by promising to solve DACA in a way that does not upset members of his own conference.
The Speaker will also have to decide whether to take up whatever DACA bill, if any, passes the Senate.
House conservatives would prefer to put their stamp on the immigration debate by passing their own measure and going to conference with the Senate.
The Goodlatte bill is further to the right than the proposals being floated in the Senate or the framework outlined by the White House.
The legislation would offer a renewable, three-year legal status for DACA recipients in exchange for authorizing border wall funding, ending family-based immigration and eliminating the diversity visa lottery program.
It also would crack down on so-called sanctuary cities, increase criminal penalties for deported criminals who try to return to the U.S. and require employers to use an electronic verification system to ensure they only hire legal workers.
But it’s unclear whether the Goodlatte bill can get a majority in the House, with some Republicans representing the agricultural industry concerned about the E-Verify language and some moderate GOP lawmakers insisting on a pathway to citizenship for DACA enrollees. There could also be concern that putting the bill on the floor could upset the high-level, bipartisan DACA negotiations that are currently taking place among the leadership.
While many Republicans are expecting to see some version of the Goodlatte measure pass the House, others aren’t quite as confident.
“Here is what worries me: The Speaker, just a few years ago, was a leader in our party in fiscal responsibility and yet we got a [budget] bill like we did last week,” Jordan said. “And now we are heading into an immigration debate where we know the Speaker historically has not been where the country is, or the Republican Party is, on immigration.”
Ryan may have less to risk in the debate, however, if he doesn’t plan on sticking around in Congress next year. He said he would make a final decision with his wife this spring on running for reelection.
After Boehner announced his retirement plans, he decided to tackle sticky issues that were unpopular with conservatives, including the previous budget deal, in an effort to “clean the barn” for Ryan before he took over the Speaker’s gavel.
But Ryan has insisted that his political future will not impact how he moves forward in the DACA debate.
“It doesn’t,” Ryan said last week when pressed on how his personal future might play into his immigration decisions. “I don’t think about it at all.”