Ryan tells House GOP that Trump is supportive of immigration strategy

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By Mike DeBonis and John Wagner,

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan told Republican lawmakers Wednesday that President Trump is supportive of a move to consider a pair of competing immigration bills next week that deal with the fate of young undocumented immigrants.

“We’ve been working hand-in-glove with the administration on this,” Ryan (R-Wis.) said at a news conference.

The House is planning to consider a conservative bill, tilted toward hard-line positions, that offers a limited path to permanent legal status for young undocumented immigrants. Another bill that has not been finalized would offer that status and an eventual path to citizenship, but it remains unclear whether it could pass the House.

Prospects for passage of any legislation remain uncertain as hard-line conservatives stand opposed to legalization — and they were encouraged to fight Wednesday by former White House aide Stephen K. Bannon.

[Trump’s crackdown on migrant families plunges Washington deeper into immigration fight]

In a morning session with some two dozen conservatives, Bannon warned that passing a bill could cost the GOP control of the House in November.

“It came down to the central point he delivered, which is if any bill passes the House with amnesty in it, it fractures the party and the base would be disgusted, and it could cost the party the majority in the fall,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), recounting Bannon’s words. “The country knows what amnesty is. To restore the rule of law would be impossible if it is destroyed by putting amnesty into law.”

King said many of the lawmakers at the session were receptive to Bannon’s argument.

Even as Bannon lobbied against passage of a bill, House leaders said they were in close contact with administration officials about getting something done.

“We’ve been working with the Trump administration on this,” said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). “You know, how often the president is getting briefings, I couldn’t answer. But we are working with different officials in the Trump administration to make sure that what we’re doing also coincides with the pillars he laid out and the things we all want to do to secure our border.”

Scalise declined to say whether he has a commitment from the president to round up votes to pass a bill.

Ryan’s strategy emerged as an alternative to a bold but ultimately unsuccessful move by moderates to force action on an issue that has long bedeviled the GOP. The House adjourned Tuesday two signatures short of completing a petition that would set up debate on legislation to shield “dreamers” from deportation.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) said that Ryan had told House members during a closed-door meeting that he had briefed the president a day earlier on the new legislative strategy — votes on the dueling immigration bills, with a separate vote in July on an agriculture worker program — and that Trump was supportive of the new approach.

“We need something signed into law,” Collins said. “The president needs something signed into law.”

[Trump blames family separation at the border on Democrats]

The agreement is a victory for Ryan and other GOP leaders who feared that unleashing a wide-ranging immigration debate in the midst of midterm primary season could carry unpredictable consequences for the Republican majority. They spent weeks holding detailed talks between seemingly in­trac­table foes inside the party, hoping to dissuade rank-and-file lawmakers from signing the “discharge” petition by demonstrating a good-faith attempt to bridge the divide.

“This is an effort to bring our caucus together, our conference together on immigration,” Ryan said. “I’m very pleased. . . . What we have now is an actual chance to make law and solve this problem.”

Republicans have struggled for years to arrive at any sort of immigration compromise, with pro-business Republicans who support expanding legal immigration and a possible amnesty for those living in the United States illegally sharply at odds with an ascendant populist wing that is fervently opposed to amnesty and wants to curtail any legal influx to protect American jobs and wages.

Trump’s decision last year to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects hundreds of thousands of dreamers from deportation has added new urgency to the debate — and prompted the moderates to file the discharge petition in May after internal talks went nowhere.

“We have a responsibility to address this issue,” said Rep. Dennis A. Ross (R-Fla.), who threatened to sign the discharge petition but ultimately did not. “I think a lot of my members on the Republican side will realize that this compromise is going to give them the exit strategy they need to show that they’ve passed a bill on immigration.”

“This at least gives us an opportunity to have a vehicle that will go over to the Senate and might even have, with some pressure from the president, an opportunity to become law,” Ross added.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a leader of the discharge petition, did not rule out resuming the effort but also said the debate next week will be progress.

“Our goal is to make law, and we said from the beginning we want the House to debate immigration reform in a serious, meaningful way, and it looks like that is happening for the first time in nearly a decade,” Curbelo said.

Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), who signed the discharge petition, echoed that point.

“All we ever wanted was to get a vote on the floor,” Katko said. “That’s all we ever tried to do with this whole thing . . . and we’ve accomplished that.”

“I think everyone is going to be pleased when you see the content of the bill,” Katko added. “There’s an awful lot of good things in there for Democrats to vote on.”

Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) said Democrats could ultimately determine what, if anything, passes.

“I think that’s just general knowledge, that there’s enough people against the one and enough people against the other probably to keep it from happening,” he said. “But the wild card is, what will the Democrats do?”

Josh Dawsey and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

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