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Immigration Debate Shines Spotlight On Divided GOP

Lynne Sladky/AP

Featured image: Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., represents a district where 70 percent of his constituents are Hispanic and nearly half are foreign born.

House Republicans huddled for hours Thursday morning in another attempt to find party unity on an issue that divides the GOP like no other: immigration.

In recent weeks, uprisings from the party's conservative and moderate wings forced Republican leaders led by lame duck House Speaker Paul Ryan to agree to turn the floor over to an immigration debate the third week of June, but what the House will vote on remains a mystery.

The party is divided over two very different approaches on immigration. Conservatives have been agitating for months for a vote on hard-line immigration legislation authored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. GOP leaders never brought the bill up for a vote because they say it doesn't have the support to pass the House.

At the same time, frustrated moderate Republicans — many of whom represent the battleground districts that will determine control of the House this November — began working with Democrats last month on a discharge petition to force a vote on the floor.

A discharge petition is a legislative act of rebellion that can overrule party leaders by forcing House votes on a bill if 218 lawmakers sign the petition. The measure is rarely successful because it requires at least some members of the majority party to rebel against their own leaders.

GOP leaders strongly oppose the discharge petition, but signatures keep getting added to it. As of Thursday morning, supporters were just three votes shy of the 218 they need. If today's meeting failed to produce any agreement or progress in ongoing talks, it is likely the petition reaches the 218 threshold this week.

Last month, conservatives voted down a farm bill they support on the floor as a leverage play on immigration to counter the moderates' discharge petition strategy. The farm bill now can't pass until the immigration debate is resolved.

Adding to the internal drama is the pressure on party leaders to negotiate a way out of this dispute that doesn't prompt a further rebellion in the ranks. Ryan, who is not running for reelection, has been dogged by speculation since his announcement that he might need to resign early. Ryan wants to remain speaker through the remainder of this Congress. His top two deputies, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., are angling for leadership promotions in the next Congress. How the trio navigates this immigration debate is being closely watched for what it could mean for their own political futures.

Jonese Franklin