WASHINGTON -- House Republicans are rushing to assemble a compromise immigration bill for a vote next week alongside an existing conservative proposal, a strategy that a White House official told GOP lawmakers has President Donald Trump's blessing.
Stephen Miller, the main architect of the Trump administration's approach on immigration, met with GOP lawmakers at the Capitol on Wednesday and told them this was probably their last and best chance to pass conservative immigration legislation, according to a person in the room who asked not to be identified when describing private meetings.
The person said Miller assured lawmakers that Trump supports a plan laid out by House leaders late Tuesday that will put two immigration bills on the floor next week: a GOP compromise bill being pulled together by leaders of different Republican factions and one favored by conservatives that is sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia.
Lawmakers from the conservative Republican Study Committee told Miller, however, that immigration is such a hot-button issue in their districts that they need an explicit and public Trump tweet -- not just a closed door meeting with a staffer -- to give them political cover to vote for legislation that hard-liners could label as "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants, according to the person in the meeting.
The political instinct for Republicans to stay in Trump's shadow leading up to the November congressional elections was reinforced Tuesday. South Carolina Republican Mark Sanford, a frequent Trump critic, was defeated in the Republican primary after the president delivered a last-minute attack and endorsed his challenger. That came a week after an incumbent Republican House member who also criticized Trump was forced into a runoff in Alabama.
Nowhere is the need for cover more important than on the issues of immigration and border security, which Trump made a central part of his campaign and a reoccurring theme in his policy demands.
Trump supports both the Goodlatte bill and the GOP compromise bill since they check off all the White House's policy priorities, and Miller encouraged Republicans to consider voting "yes" on both measures, according to the person who heard his presentation.
House Speaker Paul Ryan urged his moderate members to pursue a Republican-only solution to avoid being forced into floor votes he couldn't control by a petition signed by moderate Republicans and all Democrats. The GOP agreement to vote next week on the Goodlatte bill and the GOP compromise bill was the result of that negotiation, which didn't include any Democrats.
Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican who participated in the negotiations, said it's possible that both pieces of legislation will fail on the House floor.
Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who chairs the far-right Freedom Caucus, cautioned against rallying around a bill that hasn't been drafted yet because "the details are very ambiguous at this point." He said he personally is "favorably disposed to seriously considering" the compromise bill, but he's reserving judgment until he sees the legislative text.