As House Republican leadership furiously searched for a way out of competing immigration uprisings from both ends of their own party, they committed Thursday to hold a vote on a conservative bill that has been demanded by their right flank for months.
But even after meetings stretching late into the evening with both moderate and conservative members, no one emerged with a path forward.
"Every option is on the table right now," said conservative Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows as he emerged from two meetings with his leadership, one with moderates included and one with just a group of conservatives.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, told reporters that he informed conservative members who are threatening an unrelated bill caught up in the fight that he would hold a vote on the hardline measure, which by all accounts, still lacks enough votes to pass the House.
The commitment comes as GOP leadership has been squeezed by frustrated Republican members from both sides of the ideological spectrum. Moderate Republicans are as few as five GOP signatures away from forcing a series of votes on the House floor to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, including the conservative bill and a bipartisan proposal that is the one almost guaranteed to prevail instead under that plan.
Meanwhile, in response to the momentum that effort is gathering, the conservative Freedom Caucus has been holding up another bill -- the so-called "farm bill" that sets agriculture policy as well as a host of other high-profile issues for up to five years -- that has a razor thin margin to pass with Republican votes, saying they demand a path forward on immigration.
"I've already told them we're going to vote on Goodlatte, so I don't understand the difficulty here," McCarthy told reporters as he left a meeting of GOP leadership Thursday afternoon, referring to the hardline bill led by Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte.
Meadows acknowledged that promise as "progress" but said there remain "a lot of details to be worked out."
Goodlatte's proposal would have just three-year renewals of permits like those under DACA, which protected young undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children, with no path to citizenship for those immigrants in exchange for a host of aggressive anti-illegal immigration measures as well as steep cuts to legal immigration. Though there may be further changes to the bill, it remains the most aggressive and farthest to the right of any legislative proposal on the issue.
Meadows had earlier Thursday told reporters as he left a Freedom Caucus meeting that the group had spoken by phone with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, and it was clear the House would not be able to pass the farm bill without immigration movement.
"At this point there is no deal to be made," Meadows told reporters as he emerged. "For us, immigration and farm bill go together. ... Our caucus was very supportive of continuing conversations with leadership, but at this point there aren't enough votes for the farm bill."
Even after the smaller group meeting with leadership Thursday evening, little had been decided, with members planning a late-night conference call to see if any consensus could be reached among the Freedom Caucus.
Similarly, the leader of the moderate effort to force the DACA vote, California Rep. Jeff Denham, said his group was still full steam ahead -- though he declined to directly answer whether leadership had made a commitment or promise to his side of the equation about a path forward.
"Until we have an agreement on a piece of legislation, I think it's important to continue the discharge," Denham said, a reference to the procedural motion used to force the vote on DACA called a "discharge petition." That method requires a majority of the House of Representatives to sign the petition in order to bypass the typical procedure of a bill going through committee or a host of other legislative roadblocks that GOP leadership could use to stop it.
Denham and Meadows both said they believe the moderate's vote-forcing effort finally put pressure on a process that has sputtered for months without resolution. Meadows included the farm bill threat as a forcing pressure.
As it tries to find a way forward, Republican leadership is making a pitch to get in front of the brewing storm, according to two sources with direct knowledge.
Their offer, according to the sources, is to hold a vote on the hardline measure but structure it in a way that allows moderates a fair vote on a proposal of their choice, as well.
It's unclear, though, if the plan will work and come together in time to save the farm bill that leadership is pushing to pass on Friday.
"We're still working in good faith to try to get this resolved," Scalise said as he left Thursday night's meeting. "We want to get a farm bill passed obviously to get the work requirements in place. And we also want to get an agreement on how to address the immigration problem and we've been making a lot of headway."
Still, the ultimate path for any immigration legislation, even if it were to pass the House, was unresolved. The White House views the House situation as a mess for the chamber's GOP leadership to clean up, and there remains to be serious negotiations regarding a DACA bill that could not only pass the House, but also the Senate and get signed by the President.
"I think the aim is something that has the potential of becoming law, and I think that's something everybody agrees on," Meadows said.
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