House Republicans are bracing for a two-hour conference meeting Thursday morning on immigration, which could determine the fate of moderate members' efforts to force a vote on several immigration bills.
Leaving an afternoon closed-door negotiations with party leadership on Capitol Hill, Republicans touted continued "productive" talks, but none said a deal was reached yet.
"Just another productive meeting," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said cheerfully as he walked past reporters.
The talks have reached high stakes ahead of the longstanding Thursday meeting -- with members not sure what leadership will present to them.
"We're still not in a situation where we're in an agreement," said conservative and Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican. "Hopefully what we'll see is the objections get smaller and less of a hurdle in the hours to come. We're down to hours, not weeks."
The meeting between moderates, conservatives and leadership continued to make progress, but there still seemed to be no resolution on the issue of establishing citizenship for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
"I think a lot of it hangs on that meeting tomorrow," said Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, earlier in the day. Love has signed a House procedural maneuver -- known as a discharge petition -- that allows lawmakers to bypass leadership and force a vote on the floor if they can get a majority of members to sign on.
As it stands now, several moderate Republicans still considering the discharge petition have held off on signing it under the guise that leadership will be able to broker compromise immigration legislation between conservatives and moderates in the conference. But, if Thursday's meetings don't go well, moderates may abandon the negotiating strategy and push forward with the discharge petition. Moderates leaving the meeting in Speaker Paul Ryan's office pledged to keep that effort alive to keep the pressure on.
The petition is just three signatures away from the 218 needed to force the vote. On Wednesday, two Democrats signed it, meaning 192 of the House's 193 Democrats had done so (Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas is the sole Democratic hold out). That would leave two Republican signatures needed.
One key obstacle is whether members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus will be able to support a plan that would give DACA recipients a green card and eventually a path to citizenship. The Freedom Caucus met Tuesday night but multiple members said no consensus was reached. It was rather a discussion of various options.
Leaving the Wednesday leadership meeting together, moderate Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Freedom Caucus member Rep. Raul Labrador both reiterated their negotiation groups' positions -- Curbelo saying a bridge to legal status for DACA recipients is a necessity and Labrador saying DACA recipients could not have a path to status different than any other immigrant.
"We're working on the bridge design," Curbelo joked when asked how those could be reconciled. "It will be a beautiful bridge."
Freedom Caucus member Rep. Scott Perry said he expects something "broad" to be presented Thursday, and conservative Rep. Mark Walker predicted an "outline," but Perry added "the devil is in the details" and "potentially one thing could blow the whole thing up."
California Rep. Jeff Denham, a leader on the discharge petition, said if there is not an agreement, the discharge will get 218 signatures.
"We will know this week whether we have an agreement or not," Denham said. "More people will be signing on this week."
Asked by CNN if that meant Republicans or just members, Denham said, "Yes."
Curbelo and Walker also told CNN separately Wednesday that a deal may include some cuts on the legal immigration side, but that they would occur to set aside visas that could offset those going to DACA recipients.
"There's a discussion about reallocating visas" for DACA recipients, Curbelo said when asked about reports that a deal could include ending the diversity visa lottery and trimming family categories.
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