Trump on discharge petition: Don't bother sending me an immigration bill if it doesn't include a wall and border security

If you’re not following the discharge petition melodrama being orchestrated by centrist Republicans in the House, read this first. They landed another GOP signature yesterday, putting them just four shy of the 218 they’d need to force an immigration vote (assuming every Democrat also signs). Here’s POTUS this morning on Fox warning them not to bother unless they’re prepared to pay up on enforcement.

Border hawks will like that but the bickering in the House right now has little to do with enforcement. It’s not border security or the wall that’s a sticking point between moderates and conservatives, it’s a path to citizenship for DREAMers. Centrists like Carlos Curbelo and Jeff Denham want a vote on immigration because they come from purple districts with large Latino populations and are terrified of being washed away in November unless they do something showy soon to stand up for illegals. Their olive branch to the right is to include four different immigration bills in their discharge petition: If they get 218 signatures, the House will vote on an array of legislation ranging from Bob Goodlatte’s bill emphasizing border security to squishier variations that would give DREAMers permanent residency. Whichever bill gets the most votes, wins (assuming more than one gets a majority).

House conservatives are nervous anyway, though, because they suspect that a squishy bill backed by GOP centrists and Democrats would pull more votes than a border-hawk bill backed exclusively by Republicans. Paul Ryan’s trying to find a middle ground between them, proposing to ditch the discharge petition and hold a vote on a conservative bill and a moderate bill — but that doesn’t solve the problem if you think the conservative bill is doomed to fail. So instead conservatives have been wrestling with the moderates over what the more-likely-to-succeed moderate bill might include by way of legalization. According to Denham, it would create a 12-year path to citizenship for DREAMers: First they’d have to apply for a five-year temporary visa, then renew it for another five years, then apply for permanent resident status and, if successful, wait two years. Then they could apply for citizenship. Conservatives don’t like that, but they may not have much leverage here. According to Politico, there are “several” other centrist Republicans who haven’t signed the discharge petition yet but are “waiting in the wings,” with a deadline of June 7. If conservatives don’t agree to Ryan’s compromise, the centrists may have the votes to nuke conservatives by pushing the discharge petition through and giving a squishy amnesty bill a fighting chance to win.

You should know by now, though, that any action in immigration politics on one side has an equal and opposite reaction on the other, which is why it’s so difficult to build a compromise. It turns out that at least three House Democrats from border districts have decided they *won’t* sign the discharge petition — because they’re afraid it’ll include wall funding, which will create problems among their own voters this fall:

A trio of Texas Democrats — Reps. Henry Cuellar, Vicente Gonzalez and Filemon Vela, all of whom represent border districts — have so far withheld support for the petition, arguing that it would simply pave the way for the border wall that Trump favors and that they completely reject.

“We’re saying, ‘Hey, hold it,’” Cuellar said. “I want to help the dreamers, but my issue is, you can’t just say, ‘Build a wall.’”

And here POTUS is this morning, demanding a wall again. The irony in all this is that, despite the conservative opposition in the House, Trump himself has already proposed a plan that includes a path to citizenship for 1.8 million DACA-eligible illegals. He’s willing to deal on amnesty. It’s purely a matter of price — the wall plus border security plus new curbs on legal immigration, which Democrats will never agree to. That is to say, anything that can muster 218 votes in the House almost certainly can’t get past Trump. (And probably can’t get past the Senate.)

But that’s okay: The whole point here is that this negotiation is midterm kabuki on all sides. House conservatives want to show their deep-red districts that they’re tough on illegals and unwilling to bless citizenship for them. House centrists want to show the opposite to their purple districts, that they’re sympathetic and willing to stand up to the right-wingers to help DREAMers out. Democrats will vote yes or no depending on what sort of virtue-signaling the final bill offers them too. If it contains wall funding, Dems from liberal districts will vote no to impress the lefties back home that they’re willing to give Trump the finger on his big immigration priority. Dems from more purple districts will probably vote yes, reasoning that it can’t hurt to show Republican voters that they’re okay with the wall. It’s nothing but a pageant, with all sides using the vote to pander to whichever base needs pandering to. Given how unpredictable the backlash would be among both parties’ voters if an actual amnesty-for-the-wall compromise passed, there’s zero chance of one passing five months out from Election Day.