WASHINGTON – As President Donald Trump considers ending an Obama-era program that allows immigrants brought to America as children to obtain legal status, a small number of congressional Republicans are pitching a “conservative Dream Act” as a fail-safe. But it’s far from clear that Republicans could wrangle the votes to pass that bill in the House – or where it might fit in a crowded September session already thrown off by Hurricane Harvey.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., who represents a Denver swing district, said Thursday that if Trump ends Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, he would use procedural maneuvers to force a vote on the Bridge Act – an encouraging sign for Democrats, who long said that they need just a handful of Republicans to join with them to force a vote on such legislation.
Several other Republicans in diverse swing districts, including Reps. David Valadao, R-Calif., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Will Hurd, R-Texas, Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., have said they would support seeking protections for DACA recipients. In the Senate, the Bridge Act is co-sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who have said that it would likely have the support to pass.
In the House, the math is trickier. Coffman said on Twitter that he would use a discharge petition, a tactic that can send a bill to the floor without the approval of the committee, a way to rescue legislation that the majority party does not support. In theory, the Bridge Act could come to the floor, and pass, if 23 Republicans joined Coffman and every House Democrat to support it.
Most House Republicans, however, share the president’s opposition to DACA and to legal status for undocumented immigrants. In 2010, just eight House Republicans voted for the original version of the Dream Act; only two of those Republicans, Florida’s Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart, remain in Congress. In 2015, 26 House Republicans voted against an amendment that would have defunded DACA; six have since left the House, although several were replaced by Democrats.
At the moment, Coffman’s Bridge Act has just 12 Republican co-sponsors. A separate rewrite of the Dream Act, the Recognizing America’s Children Act sponsored by Curbelo, with Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., drafting a companion bill in the Senate, has just 18 co-sponsors, all Republicans. Both bills would go against a pledge Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has made to conservatives – that no immigration bill would get a vote without majority support from the majority party.
Congressional Democrats are more united in their response to DACA. The party is widely expected to use a Trump decision to end the program to withhold support for the spending bill and other measures. As in previous years, GOP leaders may need Democratic votes to offset opposition to any spending plan from fiscal conservatives.
“This is the time of year when Republicans need Democrats look like they’re not crazy,” said one Democratic aide, who asked for anonymity to speak frankly about party strategy. “If the president pulls the trigger on DACA, that is going to be a factor in whether they can get any Democrats to cooperate with them to help get some of this stuff across the finish line.”