As he prepares to exit his political career at the end of the year, Speaker Paul Ryan is struggling to control various factions in the GOP conference as a heated immigration fight consumes the agenda. But a glimmer of hope to reach a deal came through on Thursday afternoon.
WASHINGTON — As he prepares to exit his political career at the end of the year, House Speaker Paul Ryan is struggling to control various factions in the Republican conference as a heated immigration fight consumes the agenda in Congress.
But a glimmer of hope to reach a deal came through on Thursday afternoon, despite not having a finalized plan.
A discharge petition brought on by a handful of moderate Republicans and the entire Democratic conference has upended the June schedule and forced GOP leaders to race against the clock to develop a compromise on an immigration bill that would garner at least 218 votes.
The discharge petition process allows a group of at least 218 members to overrule the speaker and force a vote on any issue. At the moment, the discharge petition has 215 signatures, which is comprised of every single Democrat and 22 Republicans. There are currently several holdouts waiting for a compromise that could negate joining the discharge, though moderate Republicans are confident that they will have enough signees if push comes to shove.
Republicans met behind closed doors Thursday morning, discussing ways to compromise and avoid the discharge petition. They emerged without a unified framework, with several factions in the GOP conference taking issue with key components.
White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short, who attended the Thursday meeting, said the discharge petition would be tantamount to handing the floor over to the minority, which is something they would like to avoid.
Still, members emerged from the meeting at odds with one another and how to move forward with a real bill that a majority of Republicans can get behind.
"I don't believe there is consensus. In fact there is not consensus," Rep. Mark Meadows told reporters after exiting the meeting. "But there's a lot of great ideas and certainly, I think leadership will go from here to try to boil that down into more of a legislative framework for everybody."
Meadows, who chairs the powerful far-right Freedom Caucus, called a compromise with moderates and leadership a "herculean task," but still expressed optimism that "everybody's committed to trying to find a solution."
Rep. Mark Walker, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, said, "The hardest part of this is what is a special pathway and does that include other children of other people that have come on visas."
"That's what's going to be flushed out here," he said.
And all Republicans agreed that any formal plan would need to hit the four key pillars, which include funding for border security, cutting off chain migration, eliminating the diversity visa lottery, and providing a permanent solution for recipients and eligible recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
An aggravated Ryan held a press conference after the meeting, where he dismissed the idea that there was a deadline for getting a compromise, despite the fact that the discharge petition has a clear timetable on when it must be signed.
"We have the right kind of conversations happening, and the next step is to start putting pen to paper so we can get legislation to the floor," Ryan said.
Ryan's main issue with the discharge petition was that it would likely produce legislation that would be too liberal, and therefore not be something President Donald Trump would be willing to sign. At the same time, Ryan said legislation's ability to pass the Senate is not something he concerns himself with, a direct contradiction of his previous statement on a bill's ability to become law.
The Senate rejected several different immigration plans in February, suggesting little of what House Republicans are proposing could become law.
The Freedom Caucus said in a statement that no offer had been made on immigration and that they "are waiting to see what House leadership produces based on input from all of the Members of the Republican conference."
Later Thursday, Republicans suggested a deal could be in the works, but that the revolt against the GOP leadership would only subside once a compromise is in writing.
"I don't think you can have any agreement until you see it in writing. But we had a productive conversation and that conversation extended to our entire conference this morning," Rep. Jeff Denham, who is leading the discharge petition, told NBC News. "Now it's a matter of putting on paper and seeing if we actually have an agreement."