House leaders derail plan to force vote on bipartisan immigration bills

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, with other Democratic lawmakers who took to the streets Wednesday to protest the Trump administration’s border enforcement policies that have restricted asylum claims and separated immigrant families. (Photo by Bryan Pietsch/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – House leaders this week derailed an attempt by Democrats and moderate Republicans to force a vote on a bipartisan package of immigration reform bills, announcing instead that they will bring two Republican bills to the floor.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday after a meeting of House Republicans that they had come together and compromised on a measure that he thinks has a better chance of becoming law than the package of bills being pushed in a “discharge petition.”

That petition – which would force a floor vote if 218 members signed on – was two signatures shy of success Tuesday when Ryan engineered the alternative plan. Ryan said Wednesday that if a discharge petition were exercised, Congress would “never make law.”

“The last thing I want to do is bring a bill out of here that I know the president won’t support,” said Ryan, who added that House leaders have been working closely with the White House on a measure that the president can support.

Ryan said the bills he will advance include a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, and Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, along with 97 others, and a “compromise” proposal that has yet to be finalized.

But Democrats blasted the Goodlatte-McSally bill, which had been pushed by the conservative Freedom Caucus. That bill would boost border and interior enforcement, target visa overstays and limit family migration – derided by conservative critics as “chain migration” – among other proposals.

“Now we have the Goodlatte-McSally bill, which is an abomination that has nothing to do with anything other than more punitive enforcement,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson. “So I’m opposed to that.”

-Cronkite News video by Pat Poblete

Grijalva said he is “almost certain” that the compromise bill Ryan has promised to bring up will end up being a “Frankenstein kind of creation.”

“It’s really, really sad that we have an opportunity on a bill that has already been compromised and negotiated – to drop that and not have a chance to vote on that,” Grijalva said of one of the bills that could have been brought for a vote with the discharge petition.

McSally’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Just hours after the Republican caucus Wednesday, angry Democratic lawmakers took to the streets of Washington to protest the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on border enforcement.

Under that policy, immigrant parents and children who try to enter the country illegally can be separated. And Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that the Justice Department would no longer accept asylum claims based on a “credible fear” that immigrants would fall victim to domestic violence or gang violence if returned to their home countries.

The protesters marched from Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue to the offices of Customs and Border Protection, where they sat down in front of the entrance and were threatened with arrest. The protest broke up after three hours with no arrests, but lawmakers and advocates declared victory.

“I’ve been asked a lot of times why are we doing this,” Grijalva said as he marched with the protesters. “Well, you know, based on Sessions on asylum … based on the separation of moms and their children, it’s important that we highlight that that’s not who we are.”

-Cronkite News reporter Pat Poblete contributed to this report.