The Republican compromise immigration bill suffered a crushing defeat in the House on Wednesday in a vote that stood as a rebuke to President Trump and a signal that Republicans remain irrevocably deadlocked on the issue.
The bill was supposed to be Republican leaders’ ante in the debate, mixing a narrow pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants with faster deportations, new limits on legal immigration and funding for Mr. Trump’s border wall. The president gave it a stamp of approval just hours before the vote, calling it “strong but fair.”
But nearly half of House Republicans abandoned the bill and joined Democrats to defeat it in an embarrassingly lopsided 301-121 vote.
“This Congress was not elected to pass a sweeping amnesty,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican. “Instead of wasting our time granting legal protections to admitted criminals, we should be addressing the border security agenda the American people want.”
House Republican leaders, who had pushed conservatives and centrists to write the compromise, will have to quickly regroup from this black eye and turn their attention to another immigration battle: the family separation crisis that has raged for weeks.
They hope to offer a bill that would keep illegal immigrant parents and children detained together — a middle ground between separating them and releasing them outright.
Democrats, though, are pushing for more lenient options and forced an early test vote Wednesday as an amendment to the immigration bill. They proposed banning separations.
That was defeated on a 230-190 vote, with just a single Republican defecting to join Democrats.
The issue will rear up again next month after lawmakers return from an Independence Day vacation.
But the vote on the compromise showed that the House still hasn’t overcome a yearslong stalemate that has doomed every major immigration bill.
Republican leaders said Democrats refused to vote for what they called a reasonable compromise laid out by the president: citizenship rights for more than 1 million illegal immigrants, including hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers,” in exchange for significant changes to enforcement of both the legal and illegal immigration systems.
Among those changes were limits to the chain of family migration, an end to the visa lottery that doles out 55,000 immigration passes each year, heightened standards for requesting asylum, and the ability to more quickly deport juveniles who have streamed to the border in recent years.
The bill also included more than $23 billion for border wall construction.
It also included a first stab at a GOP solution to the family separations at the border, with language that would have required families to be kept together in immigration detention while awaiting criminal misdemeanor or deportation proceedings.
Democrats said the bill was still too harsh to illegal immigrants.
“An overwhelming majority of our people want to see DREAMers given a chance to stay in the country they love and contribute to and have called home nearly their whole lives — and do not support deporting these young people to distant lands they have never known,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking House Democrat.
Even Republicans who voted for the bill weren’t enthusiastic about it — and opponents were openly derisive.
“This bill means more amnesty and less enforcement,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who wrote the last major immigration crackdown law, in 1996.
Complicating matters for Republicans was Mr. Trump, who had been an inconstant partner.
Even though the bill was written in coordination with his team, he said two weeks ago he wouldn’t sign it. Last Tuesday he reversed himself and said he did back it — then by the end of the week he said the entire exercise was futile, and told the GOP to scrap the bill and wait until after the elections.
Republicans plowed ahead anyway, and by Wednesday morning he was back to supporting the bill.
“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,” Mr. Trump tweeted — in all capital letters.
“Passage will show that we want strong borders & security while the Dems want open borders,” he continued.
Last week a more conservative bill was defeated, though it garnered support of 193 Republicans.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Virginia Republican sponsor of both last week’s and this week’s bills, said that 223 Republicans voted for one bill or the other — enough to constitute a majority, if they can find agreement.
But moderate Republicans are likely to turn the other direction and see if they can forge common ground with Democrats.
A Democratic-backed bill to grant citizenship rights to perhaps 2 million illegal immigrants in exchange for a study of future border security is the most likely option for those efforts.