Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo walked into House Speaker Paul Ryan's office on Tuesday, intent on solving 20 years of immigration inaction in 70 minutes.
They got close.
An effort by the Miami Republicans to force a series of immigration votes in defiance of Ryan came up short, and a faction of Republicans including Diaz-Balart and Curbelo who want to find a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants known as Dreamers was forced to compromise with conservative Republicans.
The compromise is a yet-unreleased bill drafted by Ryan that includes a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers in exchange for cuts to visas doled out through a lottery and to the family members of immigrants, along with $25 billion for border security.
"There are things that I really dislike in the bill, but I think there has been a very good-faith effort to do something that can hopefully pass," Diaz-Balart said. "My ideal, preferred option is to do a bipartisan bill on this, but we don't have that option."
Diaz-Balart is a veteran of past immigration negotiations, but Curbelo wasn't in Congress when the House decided not to vote on a comprehensive immigration bill passed by the U.S. Senate in 2013. Curbelo initiated a petition last month that would have forced a series of votes on four immigration bills, a gambit that put the immigration issue back on the front burner after the lack of a court decision on the fate of Dreamers in March pushed the immigration issue to second-tier status.
"Think about where we were a month ago," Curbelo said. "We're about to get major immigration legislation to the floor."
The immigration legislation, which doesn't exist as a bill yet, is a compromise among Republicans. Democrats aren't likely to support the bill even though a small group of far-right Republicans will likely vote against the compromise legislation.
"It’s now clear the only way Republicans will consider miserly relief for some Dreamers is if the proposal guts legal immigration, turbocharges deportations, builds a wasteful and unnecessary wall, and intensifies the torture of asylum seekers at the border," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a left-leaning immigration group. "Any member of Congress who says they stand for Dreamers cannot in good conscience support these bills."
But Curbelo and Diaz-Balart said the current plan, while not their ideal vehicle to help Dreamers, is the best possible way to find a solution that can become law.
"We have compelled the leadership to listen to a ... coalition that is demanding action," Curbelo said. "From what I can tell now after having sat for over 20 hours with these people, when you add up all the meeting time is everyone is acting in good faith and every indication is that the White House would like to see this process move forward."
Diaz-Balart said final details of a compromise bill are still being ironed out, but both sides have agreed to the larger framework of a deal.
Next week, the House will vote on the compromise bill along with a conservative immigration bill supported by the majority of Republicans but not the majority of Congress. The conservative bill is expected to fail, and the compromise bill's success in the House hinges on how many Republicans from both factions of the party are willing to vote for a bill that doesn't align with their ideology on immigration.
Curbelo's likely opponent in the November election, Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, said he "caved" to GOP leadership.
"It's truly disappointing that after months of broken promises from Speaker Ryan for Dreamers, Congressman Curbelo caved so easily to House Republican Leadership and handed over every piece of leverage on DACA to the most anti-immigrant Republicans in Congress," Mucarsel-Powell said in a statement.
Curbelo's ideal scenario is passing a conservative-leaning compromise bill out of the House and sending it to the U.S. Senate for approval. In the Senate, any bill will need 60 votes and Democratic support to pass, which will likely result in changes from the House bill. Then, the bill comes back to the House, where both chambers can compromise to iron out any final disagreements before it heads to President Donald Trump's desk.
"The president has expressed a willingness to grant citizenship to people in this country who entered when they were young, and hopefully that's the direction that we'll move," Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said. "I think that's the ideal outcome."
But Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat who voted for two compromise immigration bills in the Senate earlier this year that failed to garner 60 votes, said it's too early to determine what moderate Democrats like him would do if the House passes an immigration bill.
"You can't predict what the House is going to do with the Tea Party crowd over there," Nelson said.
Diaz-Balart said his sole concern right now is finding enough votes for the compromise bill, and worrying about what may or may not happen in the U.S. Senate later.
"There's an old Cuban expression, if my grandmother had wheels, she'd be a bicycle," Diaz-Balart said.