An American flag flies outside the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., U.S.(Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)

GOP Leaders Delay House Immigration Vote Amid Party Fights

(Bloomberg) -- House Republicans canceled Friday’s planned vote on immigration legislation as leaders sought to quell an intraparty fight while confronting the furor over President Donald Trump’s now-canceled policy of splitting up families illegally crossing the border.

Third-ranking House Republican Steve Scalise said Thursday night the chamber will put off a vote on the bill that’s intended to be a compromise among conservatives and moderates in the GOP. Earlier in the day, the House defeated a separate bill backed by conservatives.

Republicans will consider adding provisions to the bill and hope to vote on it next week, said Representative Jeff Denham, a GOP moderate from California who has led talks on the compromise plan. He said lawmakers will discuss requiring employers to use an E-verify system backed by conservatives and overhauling an agricultural guest-worker program.

"We’re going to spent the weekend and delay a vote until next week and see if we can come to a compromise on those two final issues,” Denham said.

Both the GOP compromise measure and the bill defeated Thursday included provisions intended to provide a permanent solution to family separations, a policy that has drawn criticism from around the world. Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday to keep immigrant families together, backtracking on his insistence that only congressional action could fix the problem.

Long an intractable issue, immigration surged to the front of the national debate as the consequence of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting everyone who crosses the U.S. border illegally.

Crying Children

Images and accounts of crying children held in temporary detention centers away from parents created a growing backlash from the public and members of Congress. That’s forced Republicans to focus on a politically divisive issue rather than the economy or tax cuts less than five months before an election in which Democrats are making a credible run at retaking control of the House.

Conservative opponents say the GOP compromise bill amounts to “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants because it would provide some legal protection for Dreamers, those brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Republican political strategists said giving any legal standing to undocumented immigrants could depress turnout in November among core anti-immigration GOP voters.

The bill, H.R. 6136, would allow the so-called Dreamers and other young immigrants to apply for a pool of visas created by eliminating the diversity lottery visa and family preference visas for siblings of citizens.

The more conservative GOP measure was defeated 193 to 231 on Thursday, with all Democrats and 41 Republicans voting against it. The bill would have provided funds for Trump’s border wall, eliminated some categories of legal immigration, overhauled the guest worker program and provided a renewable legal status for Dreamers. The bill, H.R. 4760, was meant to provide a permanent solution to family separations.

Trump in a tweet late Thursday blamed Democrats for the failure to pass immigration legislation even though Republicans have the majority in both the House and Senate. Democrats "won’t vote for anything!" he wrote.

Lame-Duck Speaker

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who announced previously he’d retire when his term is up, sought to inoculate himself from blame if both bills were defeated by saying passage isn’t his strategy. He said his goal was to prevent moderate Republicans from joining with Democrats to collect enough signatures to force votes on measures the minority party supports, which Trump would veto if they passed.

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has shown no interest in comprehensive immigration legislation after earlier attempts failed. Instead, senators in both parties are working on stand-alone measures to prevent children from being separated from parents who are taken into custody at the border.

Democrats weren’t involved in drafting either House immigration measure, and made clear that the second bill was only a compromise among Republican factions, not the minority party.

"It may be a compromise with the Devil, but it is not a compromise with Democrats," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.