Politics

Immigration bill brokered by Miami Republicans fails

Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo speaks to the media after touring  Catholic Charities' Boystown in Cutler Bay.  Run by the Archdiocese of Miami, the complex is tasked with housing children who came into the country by themselves or were removed from their parents as part of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy, which had included taking children from their parents as they go through immigration processing.
Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo speaks to the media after touring Catholic Charities' Boystown in Cutler Bay. Run by the Archdiocese of Miami, the complex is tasked with housing children who came into the country by themselves or were removed from their parents as part of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy, which had included taking children from their parents as they go through immigration processing. cmguerrero@miamiherald.com

The Miami lawmakers who spent weeks trying to craft an all-Republican immigration solution settled for a messaging vote on Wednesday on an immigration bill that wasn't conservative enough for Republicans and wasn't liberal enough for Democrats.

Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo failed to navigate the third rail of GOP politics that has tripped up lawmakers like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the past. A compromise immigration bill that included a solution for giving young immigrants known as Dreamers a path to citizenship in exchange for $25 billion for President Donald Trump's border wall and limiting legal immigration failed by a vote of 121 to 301.

Every Democrat and 112 Republicans voted against the plan.

The bill also included a provision that would have allowed families to be detained together at the border if they cross illegally together.

"What we witnessed today was a minority of Republicans joining every Democrat in the House to double down on a failed, broken, inefficient, unfair and at times cruel immigration system," Curbelo said. "Despite this setback we will continue working with Republicans, with Democrats, with anyone who is sincerely interested in solving this problem."

Trump endorsed the bill hours before the vote in an all-caps tweet, following days of mixed messaging as conservatives blasted the bill as "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants.

“HOUSE REPUBLICANS SHOULD PASS THE STRONG BUT FAIR IMMIGRATION BILL, KNOWN AS GOODLATTE II, IN THEIR AFTERNOON VOTE TODAY, EVEN THOUGH THE DEMS WON’T LET IT PASS IN THE SENATE,” Trump tweeted. “PASSAGE WILL SHOW THAT WE WANT STRONG BORDERS & SECURITY WHILE THE DEMS WANT OPEN BORDERS = CRIME. WIN!”

But Trump's tweet wasn't enough, and the failure of Republican leaders to get any immigration bill passed effectively ends the prospect of further congressional action on the issue before the 2018 election.

"Whether its to have border security or whether its to solve the issue of the Dreamers, it's pretty evident it's going to require a bipartisan fix," Diaz-Balart said.

Diaz-Balart and other Repubilcan lawmakers met with the president on Tuesday, one day before the vote on the immigration bill. Instead of talking about the effort, Diaz-Balart asked Trump about infrastructure, according to a pool report.

The immigration bill did not come up during the part of the meeting with lawmakers that was open to the press.

“We have the worst immigration law in the history of the world. It’s a joke,” Trump said during the meeting, blasting a proposal to hire more immigration judges to speed up deportation hearings.

Curbelo and Diaz-Balart's inability to pass a bill hurts Republicans' ability to deliver a message to voters in their competitive Miami-Dade districts that GOP members in Congress are capable of working with Trump to solve issues such as what to do with 690,000 young immigrants who could face deportation. Without congressional action, the fate of the young immigrants known as Dreamers rests with the courts.

"What is the point of having a congressman with a literal 'seat at the table' with POTUS, if he won’t stand up and fight for the issues that matter to his constituents?" Diaz-Balart's Democratic opponent Mary Barzee Flores said on Twitter.

Diaz-Balart and Curbelo argue that they and a small band of more moderate House Republicans forced the issue on immigration after the U.S. Senate failed to pass an immigration bill earlier this year. In May, the pair started a petition to force four immigration votes against the wishes of GOP leadership, but they fell two GOP signatures short.

Instead, they tried to negotiate a bill with Republicans, including some who oppose any effort that gives undocumented immigrants a path to legal status.

"The compromise bill is far from perfect and is not the compromise I would have crafted," Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "However, we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I intend to vote for this bill because it moves our country in the right direction by protecting DREAMers from deportation, putting them on a pathway to citizenship, and allowing them to continue a productive life in a nation that benefits from their contributions.”

Miami-Dade Democratic Reps. Frederica Wilson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz voted against the bill because of its concessions to conservatives, along with every Democrat in the House of Representatives.

Curbelo and Diaz-Balart were clearly frustrated with the conservatives who were part of negotiations but voted against the bill, though they stopped short of bashing colleagues by name. Diaz-Balart said he wouldn't comment on private meetings when asked if his conservative counterparts had ever committed to voting yes on the bill during negotiations.

"If the time comes to sit down with our colleagues again we will now be much better prepared, we're not starting from scratch, we know what to expect," Curbelo said.

McClatchy DC reporter Kate Irby contributed to this report.

Alex Daugherty, 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty
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