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House postpones vote on a second immigration bill after voting down first

By Jazmine Ulloa and Eliza Fawcett
Los Angeles Times

June 21. 2018 2:31PM
The U.S. Capitol building. (FILE)

WASHINGTON -- With a crisis over family separations still boiling on the border, the House on Thursday voted down a conservative immigration bill and abruptly postponed a vote on a more moderate proposal pitched as a compromise between battling Republican factions, an embarrassing setback for House leaders.

The first bill collapsed in a 193-231 vote, and the vote on the second was pushed back until Friday to avoid a second quick defeat. Both bills were largely seen as partisan measures with dim chances of passage and almost no path forward to becoming law, the latest failure in Congress to reach consensus on the divisive issue.

The first bill would have provided nearly $25 billion for a border wall, made steep cuts to legal immigration programs, and provided temporary legal status for young people brought into the country as children. The second would go further in overhauling the nation's complex immigration system.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., who had attempted to broker an agreement between moderate and conservative Republican factions on the second bill, earlier had seemed to concede defeat, telling Fox News that lawmakers were "planting seeds" for an "ultimate solution." Republican leaders are expected to host a briefing later to answer questions from members still unsure about the legislation.

President Donald Trump, who had repeatedly urged Congress to act, did not help Ryan when he suggested in an early-morning tweet that the House was wasting its time by considering either bill. "What is the purpose of the House doing good immigration bills" when Senate Democrats are unlikely to pass the Republican bills, he wrote.

Outside the House chamber, Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pa., said Trump's tweet -- which may simply reflect a recognition that the conservative bill was doomed anyway -- could sway undecided Republicans to vote against the more moderate bill.

"Rather than encouraging people to vote for it, (Trump) gave them a reason not to vote for it by saying 'What's the point of having the vote if the Senate isn't going to pass it?'" he said.

The compromise bill would earmark $23 billion for construction of a border wall, a priority for Trump, and make steep cuts to legal immigration programs, a potential poison pill for Democrats.

But it also provides legal status to an estimated 800,000 immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. The status of the so-called Dreamers has been in limbo since federal courts blocked Trump's attempts last year to rescind a temporary deportation-relief program.

As a political backlash to the family separations at the border grew, lawmakers added a provision to address the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy to prosecute all people suspected of entering the country illegally for misdemeanors.

Similar to the executive order Trump signed Wednesday, it mandates that families be detained together while adults go through criminal proceedings. It does not solve the more immediate problem of how to reunite more than 2,300 children who were taken from their parents since early May and are scattered in detention facilities across the country.

The legislation has taken on new urgency as the executive order appears to be temporary and is expected to face legal challenges in connection with the Flores agreement, a landmark 21-year-old court settlement under which immigrant minors can be detained no longer than 20 days.

Trump administration officials cited that court case when deciding to separate children from parents and guardians going through criminal proceedings. Images of toddlers crying behind chain-link fences, and reports of federal agents taking infants and young children to distant states, forced a rare retreat from the White House.

Democrats and other opponents of the administration's policy say that court case is not the root of the problem, noting that separating families was the exception, not the rule, for most of the two decades since the Flores case was resolved.

Administration officials on Wednesday refused to say what they would do with the migrant children in three weeks should they fail to get an exemption from a court or pass legislation through Congress. Nor did the administration have plans to begin reuniting families already separated.

Republican leadership has struggled for years to come together on immigration and had failed in recent months to present a deal to House Republicans, opening the door for a group of moderate lawmakers to move forward with a maneuver to force a vote -- over leaders' objections -- on the issue.

Trump last week upended Republican efforts to negotiate the compromise bill, saying he would not support it. Hours after throwing the House GOP caucus into turmoil, the White House issued a statement saying, in effect, that the president had been confused.

White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah later issued a statement saying that Trump "fully supports" both bills. But after a meeting with House Republicans late Tuesday, Trump was unable to convince conservatives to back the compromise legislation.

The more hard-line proposal did not address family separations at the border, nor did it offer a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. It made steeper cuts to legal immigration programs and had little support even among Republican members.

Upon signing his executive order Wednesday, the president said he still wanted passage of a broad immigration bill, and House Republican leaders have been pushing recalcitrant members hard to support the more moderate of the immigration proposals. But most Democrats were expected to oppose it along with Republican conservatives unwilling to support granting citizenship to Dreamers.

Senate leaders from both parties also have expressed little support for the House's approach.

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