- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A group of House Republican rebels launched an official petition drive Wednesday that would force GOP leaders to hold a vote on bills to legalize illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” putting the immigration debate back front-and-center in Congress.

The move had already gained support of 17 Republicans by the middle of the afternoon, putting it well on the way to the approximately two-dozen GOP signatures that will be needed — along with all House Democrats — to force votes.

The Republicans are using what’s known on Capitol Hill as a discharge petition, which is a way for lawmakers to push bills to the floor over the objections of the majority party’s leaders, who traditionally control the floor schedule.

To succeed, the rebel Republicans — led by Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, and joined by Reps. Jeff Denham, David Valadao, Will Hurd and Mario Diaz-Balart — will need to get signatures from a majority of House members.

“Immigration reform is not a partisan issue, and, for far too long, Republicans and Democrats alike have failed to provide America with a solution,” Mr. Valadao said in announcing his support.

The move appears to represent a real threat to House GOP leaders, who had said they wanted to wait for the Senate to take action on immigration first.

Not only are the rebels making quick headway, but there’s a huge pool of others who are likely targets to sign the petition. Nearly 250 members — including more than 50 Republicans — signed onto a framework last month for debating immigration in the House.

GOP leaders, including Speaker Paul D. Ryan, have been searching for a plan that President Trump could back. Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said Wednesday that’s still his goal.

“We continue to work with our members to find a solution that can both pass the House and get the president’s signature,” she said.

Discharge petitions are rarely successful, and the last one that could be considered successful was on campaign finance reform in 2002. A 2014 discharge petition on immigration, led by House Democrats, failed.

Petitions are usually unsuccessful because of arcane rules governing when they can actually be raised, and because members of the majority party are reluctant to buck their leaders.

But the GOP rebels — mostly from liberal-leaning or Hispanic-heavy districts, and eyeing November’s elections — said they were left with no choice on immigration.

“Enough is enough. We are running out of options,” Mr. Diaz-Balart said. “They have not acted, so we must take this drastic step with a discharge petition.”

The rebels’ petition would allow votes on four different plans involving Dreamers. One would be an enforcement-first bill from conservatives that would keep the Obama-era DACA deportation amnesty running, while making major changes to crack down on sanctuary cities and give the government faster deportation powers.

Another plan would be a “clean” bill dubbed the Dream Act, which would grant citizenship rights to millions of illegal immigrants. A third plan would be a Dream Act combined with a vow of future border security, and a fourth plan would be whatever House GOP leaders wanted.

Under the rules the discharge petition laid out, whichever of the four plans gets the most votes would emerge.

The Senate held its own immigration debate earlier this year but stalemated, with no plans crossing the 60-vote threshold.

Business groups and immigrant-rights activists cheered the move to revive the debate in the House.

“This discharge petition should not have been necessary, but it is a positive step,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce weighed in, saying it’s “long past time” that Congress grant permanent protections to the young source of labor, as well as work on border security.

“We applaud those members who are adding their names to the ongoing effort to start legislative debate in the U.S. House,” said Neil Bradley, the chamber’s policy chief.

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