“I’ve had it,” said Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, a former committee chairman and leadership ally who has joined the effort spearheaded by Representatives Jeff Denham and David Valadao of California, and Will Hurd of Texas.
They’ve launched what’s known as a discharge petition to go around the GOP leadership and compel a floor debate on DACA proposals. The parliamentary procedure requires signatures from 218 members, a majority of the House. Democrats have been clamoring for DACA votes for months, but it’s the breakaway Republicans who are giving the effort new life. If every Democrat signs the petition, just 25 Republicans are needed to reach the necessary threshold. In little more than a week, 20 GOP lawmakers have already signed on.
Discharge petitions are frequently circulated by members of the minority party in the House, usually to no avail. But use of the tool by renegade members of the party in power is much rarer.
The speed and early success of the effort has unnerved Ryan and his fellow Republican leaders, who have implored their members in public and in private not to sign the petition. “We do not agree with discharge petitions,” the speaker told reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday. “We think they are a big mistake. They disunify our party.”
Behind closed doors, Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy have warned their members that a messy immigration debate could spell trouble in the upcoming elections. Ryan has tried to assure Republicans that the leadership is working on DACA legislation, but it’s a message lawmakers have heard too many times before. “The bottom line is, we were at a point where there was no momentum,” one of the signatories, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, told me. “We’ve got to get something that is viable.”
Ryan has said that the House should not waste time voting on immigration bills that Trump would veto. But it’s a shaky argument for a party that spent years passing dozens of repeals of the Affordable Care Act under former President Barack Obama that stood no chance of being signed into law. “Our job is to pass legislation, and the president has the ability to not sign legislation,” Hurd said in an interview. “We should be focused on doing our job.”
What distinguishes this effort from many previous discharge petitions is that it does not mandate a vote on a single piece of legislation. Rather, it sets up a “Queen of the Hill” debate on four competing immigration bills under which the proposal that gets the most votes would prevail, assuming at least one secured the majority required to pass. Two of the bills would be bipartisan DACA measures that combine a path to citizenship for so-called “Dreamers” with enhanced border security, while another would be a far more conservative approach written by Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. All three bills have previously been introduced over the last several months. The final bill would be left for Ryan to submit as speaker.