(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump may have killed whatever chance House Republicans had of passing immigration legislation next week by telling them to stop “wasting their time” on the issue until after the November elections.
Trump, who just days ago told Republican lawmakers he was behind their effort “100 percent,” has since repeatedly undercut attempts to shape a bill that would have provided most of what he previously said he wanted on immigration -- including money for a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border -- and would provide a legislative remedy for the separations of families who cross the border.
His tweet on Friday leaves Republicans in a lurch. Many members had been pleading for a clear signal of support from the president in order to vote for a bill that would let the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers apply for visas. Outside conservative groups labeled that as “amnesty” and urged Republicans to reject it.
“Members are not going to walk that walk if the president is not going to support them through the fire,” said Representative Dennis Ross, a Florida Republican who isn’t seeking re-election.
Representative Ryan Costello, a Pennsylvania Republican who isn’t seeking re-election, said Trump’s comments stalled any momentum immigration legislation may have had and take away an incentive for those who were on the fence.
"Trump based so much on having the wall and here it was on a platter, along with the Ag provisions we really need," Costello said. "And he just torpedoed it."
Republicans are running out of options to deal with the political damage left by Trump’s policy that was taking children away from parents who were apprehended crossing the border illegally.
Trump reversed the policy with an executive order this week, but confusion about how it will be implemented, and how quickly the government can switch gears, has left the issue unsettled. Meanwhile, there’s been international condemnation and possible voter backlash, less than five months before elections that will decide control of Congress.
The House GOP immigration legislation was already teetering on the brink of collapse. An alternative version with stricter immigration limits favored by conservatives failed on Thursday, when House leaders couldn’t muster enough Republican votes and Democrats held to their united opposition. House Speaker Paul Ryan and his leadership team then delayed a vote on a measure worked out with Republican moderates so that it could be modified.
“Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November,” Trump said in a posting on Twitter Friday. “Dems are just playing games, have no intention of doing anything to solves this decades old problem. We can pass great legislation after the Red Wave!”
In fact, Republicans are facing the potential for a blue wave -- a surge of Democratic candidates winning Republican-held seats in suburban and exurban areas where Trump is less popular. Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to take control of the House, which would bring Trump’s agenda to a halt and give the party subpoena power to conduct investigations of the White House.
Some lawmakers pushed back against Trump on Friday, and vowed to continue to work on building a consensus on immigration.
“I respectfully disagree,” Representative Leonard Lance, a New Jersey Republican who’s been targeted by Democrats, said on MSNBC. “We should continue to work on it. Work on it today in the Congress and work on it next week as well. I want to solve this problem as quickly as possible.”
“Not giving up,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana said after the president’s tweet on immigration. And Representative John Katko, a New York Republican, said he’s attempting to get negotiators together Friday. “I have every intention of moving forward,” he said.
Even if the House can pass legislation, it’s unlikely to get through the Senate and continue on to Trump’s desk. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he’s not inclined to make another attempt at comprehensive immigration legislation this year, and with Republicans holding a slim 51 to 49 majority, Democrats have enough votes to block any bill that doesn’t meet their demands.
In the meantime, a bipartisan group of senators on the Judiciary Committee, including three who’ve authored key family-retention legislation, agreed to meet on Monday to start seeking consensus on a bill focused solely on stopping the family separations. So far, though, Republicans and Democrats have been far apart, with lawmakers introducing bills that are drawing only party-line support.
Standard of Care
All 49 Senate Democrats are supporting a proposal by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. Her legislation would bar family separations unless it’s shown that a child would be at risk of human trafficking or abuse.
On Wednesday, McConnell of Kentucky and more than two dozen other Senate Republicans introduced legislation that would require children and their parents to stay together during their legal proceedings.
The legislation, authored by Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, also would set standards of care for family residential centers, give priority to timely consideration of cases involving families, and authorize 225 new immigration judges.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has also introduced a measure that would mandate families be kept together until their claims are determined. It also provides for expedited processing of those who come to the U.S. illegally with children, so their cases are decided within 14 days. And it calls for a doubling of the number of federal immigration judges to 750 from 375, and authorizes new family shelters.
While the three will participate in the bipartisan talks, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has continued to express doubts that both sides can agree on anything.
“Legislation in Congress remains unlikely and far more difficult to achieve than the simple corrective actions that the president can take immediately,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. He added that the fractures in the House between moderates and members of the conservative Freedom Caucus are a chief reason to have little optimism for anything related to immigration clearing Congress.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.