WASHINGTON (AP) — Leaders of opposing House GOP factions were set to convene with Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday as Republican leaders try to prevent passage of legislation that would protect young immigrants in the country illegally from deportation by providing them with a path toward citizenship.
The speaker fears the bill being pushed by GOP centrists for the immigrants known as “Dreamers” would be so popular with Democrats that it would be easily approved in the House, an election-year embarrassment for Republicans who mostly view the approach as amnesty.
Instead, Ryan is taking on the daunting task of trying to craft an alternative that could win the support of conservatives. It’s a tough sell ahead of a looming deadline for possible votes. Still, Ryan was upbeat Wednesday that the legislation being developed behind closed doors could hit a sweet spot to please opposing groups within the Republican majority.
“I feel good about the kind of conversations we’re having,” Ryan said.
The policy and politics of the immigration standoff are complex, even more so in an election year when House control is at stake and the conservative and centrist factions in the House majority have different priorities as lawmakers campaign back home.
President Donald Trump is staying out of the fray for now, leaving House Republicans on their own to try to resolve their differences.
“The speaker desperately wants to get something we can coalesce around,” said GOP Rep. Chris Collins of New York, a Trump ally.
Centrist Republicans have pushed the issue forward by relying on an unusual process to collect signatures from lawmakers on a so-called discharge petition. The group is a couple of signatures shy of forcing a vote on its preferred bill over leadership’s objections.
The centrists, whose elections in the fall could determine majority control of the House, are anxious to show voters back home that they have tried to resolve the uncertainty facing the young immigrants. They largely represent districts in California, Florida, New York and other states with larger immigrant populations than those of their conservative colleagues. Some face stiff challenges from Democratic candidates.
Trump announced he would end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed nearly 700,000 young immigrants to obtain permits to work and temporarily stay in the U.S. But the program largely continues temporarily, pending an unresolved legal battle.
Conservative Republicans, who hold influence as the biggest block in the House GOP majority, are opposed to any special path to legal status for the young people unless it comes with other measures they favor. They want to beef up border security, clamp down on workplace employment verification and impose fresh limits on legal immigration by family members.
GOP Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Wednesday that talks are in the “final stages,” but he doesn’t think there is a deal yet.
Some lawmakers want Trump to use his negotiating power to help strike a deal on legislation that he would sign.
“We don’t want to waste our time,” said Rep. John Faso, a New York Republican who joined in the petition effort. “At the end of the day, he has to get involved.”
Others, though, said it’s better for Republicans to work it out themselves, for now.
“Goodness gracious, he’s played a big role,” said Republican Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, leader of the conservative Republican Study Committee. “This is what he campaigned on.”
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