WASHINGTON (AP) — Divided House Republicans left a bargaining session Tuesday night saying they'd not reached an immigration compromise. It remained unclear whether restive moderates would follow through on their threat to force votes soon on the troublesome issue, and questions even arose about whether they still had enough support to do that.
Three Republicans involved in the talks said centrist lawmakers had coalesced around a proposal that would give young "Dreamer" immigrants a chance to eventually become citizens.
In exchange the moderates were willing to make concessions to conservatives on security issues, including providing all $25 billion for President Donald Trump's proposed border wall with Mexico and curbing legal immigration programs, those Republicans said. The programs included limiting the relatives whom immigrants can bring to the U.S. and ending a lottery that provides visas to people from countries with low immigration rates, the Republicans said.
But a meeting led by Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., ended with participants saying no agreement had been reached. Several expressed optimism that an accord was near but provided no evidence of that.
"We're still working to finalize what will move forward," said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. "We're close, we're very close."
The participants described the moderates' plan on condition of anonymity to describe closed-door discussions.
Leaders have been laboring to defuse an election-year civil war between moderates and conservatives that the party worries will alienate right-leaning voters. For weeks, the two factions have hunted ways to bolster border security and provide a route to citizenship for immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children, but they have failed to find middle ground.
Moderates led by Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Florida and California's Jeff Denham have said that without an agreement, they would on Tuesday get the 218 signatures — a House majority — needed on a petition triggering votes later this month on four immigration bills. They are three names short but have said they have enough supporters to succeed.
By dinner time Tuesday, the petition remained at 215 signatures, though groups of lawmakers were meeting into the evening. If moderates remain short of 218 names, the petition would remain alive and they could still try forcing the votes in July, giving them continued leverage.
House GOP leaders have strongly opposed the rarely used petition tactic, asserting those votes would probably produce a liberal-leaning bill backed by Democrats and just a smattering of Republicans.
They've actively sought to dissuade other moderates from signing the petition, and it was unclear unclear whether Curbelo and Denham had lost potential supporters.
Three Republican aides said that as part of that effort, party leaders have promised votes later this year on a bill dealing with migrant agriculture workers and requirements that employers use a government online system to verify workers' citizenship. The Republicans spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private talks.
Instead, leaders have been trying to craft a right-leaning measure. It was unclear whether GOP leaders were trying to construct a deal between the GOP's two wings or a bill that leaders would try bringing to the House floor whether or not there was an agreement. That could let them leave the issue behind as November congressional elections approach.
Aides said any pact would probably include provisions changing how immigrant children are separated from their families at the border. Trump's recent clampdown on people entering the U.S. illegally has resulted in hundreds of children being separated from their families and a public relations black eye for the administration.
No law requires those children to be taken from their parents. A two-decade old court settlement requires those who are separated to be released quickly to relatives or qualified programs. Republicans are seeking language to make it easier to keep the families together longer, said several Republicans.
Trump last year terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, though federal court orders have kept the program functioning for now. Hundreds of thousands of young immigrants have benefited from DACA or could qualify for it, and moderates want legislation that would give these so-called Dreamers a way to become legal residents and ultimately citizenship.
Conservatives have derided that step as amnesty for lawbreakers and have resisted providing a special pathway to protect them.
Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.