Politics

Republicans blindsided by Trump opposition to immigration plan

President Donald Trump is greeted by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, left, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., look on during Trump’s arrival on Air Force One at Miami International Airport, Monday, April 16, 2018. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez had wanted to join the welcoming party, but he was not invited.
President Donald Trump is greeted by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, left, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., look on during Trump’s arrival on Air Force One at Miami International Airport, Monday, April 16, 2018. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez had wanted to join the welcoming party, but he was not invited. AP

House Republicans who spent months carefully crafting an immigration reform plan found themselves not rounding up votes on Friday but refreshing their phone messages to see if a presidential tweet would blow up the entire effort.

President Donald Trump had just thrown a wrench into months of immigration talks, saying in an early morning interview with Fox News that he "certainly won't sign" the all-GOP compromise immigration bill.

As a result, House Republicans who had planned votes on two immigration bills next week went home unsure what would come next. The House does not plan to return to Washington until late Tuesday.

Don't fret, Republicans said, the president will surely clarify his remarks.

"I think if we get that clarification, then I think we're still good to go," said Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington, one of the Republicans who had earlier considered forcing a series of immigration votes on the House floor against the wishes of GOP leaders.

Three hours later, the tweet came.

"The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda," Trump tweeted. "Any Immigration Bill MUST HAVE full funding for the Wall, end Catch & Release, Visa Lottery and Chain, and go to Merit Based Immigration. Go for it! WIN!"

Trump's tweet didn't acknowledge the most important part of any deal for Republicans like Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart: a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as young children.

Democrats hate the all-Republican immigration deal hatched this week. Staunch conservative Republicans are balking at the deal, too.

The deal now hinges on Trump's support, or lack of it.

"This bill will be difficult to pass with Republican votes only unless President Trump says that he is considering supporting it. That might be good enough, even if he doesn't say I will sign it," said Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. "If you're a Republican and you're facing a challenging political environment and the president who is very popular in your district, not mine, says that he's against this bill, why in the world would you vote in favor of it?"

Republican leaders this week announced a plan to vote on two immigration bills next week. The plan scuttled a petition by Curbelo that would have forced a series of immigration votes with the support of Democrats.

The path forward is all Republican, for now.

Community Leaders and advocates responded to Sheriff Margaret Mims' recent remarks during visit to the White House with a rally at the Fresno County Sheriff's Office.

"President Trump has to say my priority is the wall and then work with us on getting a bill that gets his wall and other things," Ros-Lehtinen said. "I don't know that it's enough to get the more conservative members who still have tough races in primaries. The folks might forget what the president said, but they'll remember how you voted. It'll still be labeled as an amnesty bill for Dreamers."

Some Republicans who support the president said Trump knew exactly what he was doing as lawmakers tried to cobble a simple majority for a vote sometime next week.

"It's vintage Donald Trump to be unpredictable," said North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

California Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar, who has been working with Republicans who want a path to citizenship for Dreamers, the group of 1.8 million young immigrants, said Friday that his colleagues should take Trump's comments as a sign to abandon negotiations with the Freedom Caucus and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, to focus on the petition that was considered dead two days ago.

"I'm not in the room for negotiations, but I can tell you that working with them is ... interesting," Aguilar said.

Diaz-Balart, one of the Republicans negotiating a compromise bill, said lawmakers like him will have a "major problem" if Trump doesn't back the immigration bill.

Republicans could choose to reignite their petition to pass bills with the help of Democrats, and California Republican Rep. Jeff Denham, another one of the members leading negotiations, said "everything is on the table" when asked if he would start whipping up support for the petition again. The petition will succeed if two more Republicans sign it.

"Immigration is just the electric chair of politics for Republicans," Ros-Lehtinen said as she pantomimed someone being shocked.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049; @alextdaugherty
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