The conservative House Freedom Caucus is pushing hard for an immigration bill despised by many advocates for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals participants — an effort that has a chance of getting a House vote as soon as next week.
If that vote occurs, it would make it far more difficult for DACA backers to get votes on legislation they've been seeking.
The conservative bill, sponsored by powerful House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., does not provide a special path to citizenship for so-called "Dreamers." Instead it gives a three-year renewable legal status to people who entered the country illegally as minors.
It completely cuts the diversity visa lottery program as well as family-based migration. It decreases overall legal immigration levels by 260,000 a year, which amounts to a drop of about 25 percent. However, it does increases the number of green cards available in the three skilled-worker green card categories from about 120,000 a year to about 175,000.
It also authorizes border wall construction, adds 5,000 border patrol agents and dramatically increases border security.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the bill "a legislative act of cruelty" Wednesday.
But legislative maneuvering could help the conservative bill. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., House Freedom Caucus chairman, said conservatives could be persuaded to vote yes on a sweeping farm policy bill — a bill many are reluctant to support — if they are assured they'll soon get a vote on the Goodlatte immigration bill.
Republican House leadership has not indicated they have the votes to pass the farm bill, which is being debated this week, and have been meeting with Meadows to discuss ways to get support from the conservative group. Conservatives have raised concerns about the bill's price tag.
Meadows said that while he "fully anticipates" the Goodlatte bill would fail in a House vote, he wants the vote anyway — because it disrupts other immigration efforts that do include a legal path to citizenship specific to "Dreamers."
"Certainly, I think that's part of it," Meadows said Wednesday. "It would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise."
Vulnerable House Republicans have been trying to force a vote on four pieces of immigration legislation that GOP leaders have been reluctant to schedule.
Goodlatte's bill is among them — and by far the most conservative option — along with two bills that would provide a special path to citizenship for "Dreamers" and an unknown bill that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would choose.DACA advocates are willing to accept a vote on the Goodlatte bill under those circumstances for procedural reasons — if one of the other bills got more votes, Goodlatte's effort would die.
Since the reformers' effort, called a discharge petition, concerns the Goodlatte bill, putting the bill to an independent vote would effectively kill the petition,according to Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., who has been leading these efforts.
"You wouldn't be able to call something up that has already been addressed by the House," Denham said.
So far, 20 Republicans have signed the petition. It needs 218 to force the bills to a vote, so if all Democrats signed it would need 25 Republicans. It had a flood of signatures on its first day last week, which has since slowed to a trickle.
Many Republicans who have signed are in districts that have large Latino populations, were won by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016, or both.
It's still unclear if leadership, which has been vocally against the discharge petition, supports a vote on the Goodlatte bill in these circumstances. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., discouraged members from signing it at a GOP conference Wednesday morning, according to a GOP lawmaker, but since then two others have signed.
Denham confirmed Wednesday that if the Goodlatte bill went to a vote on the House floor they'd have to start from the beginning, diminishing the petition's chances.
"With the minimal amount of time between now and August, it would push us after August," Denham said. "Which is not something we're willing to give up."
Overall, Denham said he's not supportive of Goodlatte's bill because it doesn't provide a permanent solution for "Dreamers" and he believes the House should have a debate on all the immigration bills mentioned in the petition.
He criticized House Republicans who railed against former President Barack Obama's granting temporary legal status to DACA recipients but are now willing to make it permanent law.
"The Goodlatte bill is a comprehensive bill that we've talked about not doing for eight years," Denham said. "Now they're going to bring a comprehensive bill — that goes against everything that committee has talked about with President Obama's executive order — now they're going to extend that executive order three years at a time? Just having a temporary DACA?"
"I think Dreamers are looking for a more permanent fix," he added.
McClatchy reporter Brian Murphy contributed to this report.