DACA drama in Washington

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: A group of Republicans in the House go rogue over immigration reform.

Moderate GOP lawmakers are using a parliamentary tactic known as a “discharge petition.” They hope to force a vote to solve the DACA problem and possibly broader immigration reform.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Some see it as akin to a “Hail Mary” pass in football— hoping for a big win in the final seconds of a game.

WORLD Radio’s Jim Henry has our story.


Demonstrations like this one have gone on nearly nonstop across the country since September. That’s when President Trump announced he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA. 

Nearly 700,000 Dreamers, young adults brought into the country illegally as children, now wait in a state of legislative limbo.

Trump gave Congress until March to pass legislation protecting Dreamers— and even proposed giving up to 1.8 million of them— far more than are currently enrolled in DACA— a pathway to citizenship.

A deeply divided Congress failed in that mission— and now the move to end DACA is mired in the courts.

Enter Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of California, author of a discharge petition that would require a vote on immigration reform in the House. 

DENHAM: This will force the debate. We want to empower leadership to make sure that they’ve got the ability to bring a bill to the floor, but ultimately, we want to come together for an American solution that can not only pass the House, but also pass the Senate and get supported by the president. We feel very importantly that this is going to happen now and we’re willing to drive that vote.

That’s Denham at an outdoor news conference last week with seven other Republican House members announcing the discharge petition. Since then, about a dozen more Republicans have signed on.

But it’s still something of a longshot. They’ll need all 193 Democrats and about 7 more of their Republican colleagues to get to the 218 signatures needed to force a vote. Those last 7 Republicans will be the real challenge.

And while Denham says he wants to empower leadership to bring a DACA fix and immigration reform vote to the floor, Speaker Paul Ryan doesn’t see it that way.

RYAN: I don’t want to spend all of our time passing a bill that I know is going to get vetoed. I do want a solution here. We want to fix this DACA problem. We want certainty and we have a border security problem that needs to be addressed. These should not be mutually exclusively goals. But if we’re going to spend time on the floor, let’s spend that precious time on the floor passing legislation that we know can get signed into law.

President Trump says he’ll sign legislation fixing DACA, if it includes provisions for border security and other immigration reforms.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise says that’s the approach leadership needs to take. 

SCALISE: We’ve been working closely with President Trump. I’m a cosponsor of the Goodlatte-McCaul bill which addresses border security, funds the wall, addresses the DACA problem but from a way where you actually solve this problem and not make it even wider and broader. We end chain migration and the visa lottery program, some of the things that are really the most broken parts of immigration. That’s the approach we should take, not this approach.

But Denham’s discharge petition allows that approach. It’s called a “queen of the hill” proposition. 

Four items are each put up for a separate vote. The Goodlatte-McCaul bill that conservatives favor, another bill that only addresses DACA, an open space for any bill Speaker Paul Ryan chooses to propose, and finally, a bipartisan bill that would fix DACA and strengthen border security without funding a wall on the southern border.

The bill with the highest majority vote total would be “queen of the hill” and pass on to the Senate.

Back at last week’s news conference, Florida Republican Carlos Curbelo said the discharge petition offers the best opportunity to find a bipartisan solution. 

CURBELO: The member-driven process that we have started today is one that does not seek to accumulate power. It does not seek to impose any one solution. On the contrary, it seeks to diffuse power and in doing so, to empower every member of the House so that they can play a meaningful role in this process. 

But critics say the 18 or so Republicans who’ve signed the discharge petition only did so to help their reelection prospects in the November midterms. 

Denham is reportedly in the fight of his political life in California’s 10th Congressional District. And pollsters now consider Curbelo’s 26th Florida district a toss up.

Another petition supporter, two-term Republican Congresswoman Mia Love of Utah, also holds a seat Democrats think they can flip from red to blue in November.

Love says her constituents want a DACA fix now.

LOVE: This is about all of us elevating the people that have elected us to be here, elevating their voice on the floor. This is about us being able to take a vote on all of the bills and that way members of Congress can be held accountable for a yes or no vote. 

By one estimate, 97-percent of discharge petitions fail to get the required 218 signatures. If this one beats the odds, those votes will take place on June 25th.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Jim Henry.

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File) In this Jan. 21, 2018, file photo, demonstrators rally in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) outside the Capitol Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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