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Paul Ryan, under pressure, promises to hold immigration vote

Mark Wilson/Getty Images/File

WASHINGTON — After a frenzied, late-night negotiation, Speaker Paul D. Ryan defused a moderate Republican rebellion on Tuesday with a promise to hold high-stakes votes on immigration next week, thrusting the divisive issue onto center stage in the middle of an already difficult election season for Republicans.

The move by Ryan, announced late Tuesday by his office, was something of a defeat for the rebellious immigration moderates, who fell two signatures short of the 218 needed to force the House to act this month on bipartisan measures aimed more directly at helping young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

Instead, the House is most likely to vote on one hard-line immigration measure backed by President Trump and conservatives, and another more moderate compromise bill that was still being drafted, according to people familiar with the talks. Had the rebels secured just two more signatures for their “discharge petition,” they would have also gotten votes on the Dream Act, which would have given legalization and a path to citizenship for young immigrants brought as children, known as Dreamers, and another bipartisan measure that would have coupled aid to Dreamers and added border enforcement.

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Ryan desperately wanted to avoid bringing those bipartisan measures to the floor.

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He is expected to present a detailed plan for next week’s votes to his conference on Wednesday morning.

“Members across the Republican conference have negotiated directly and in good faith with each other for several weeks, and as a result, the House will consider two bills next week that will avert the discharge petition and resolve the border security and immigration issues,” a spokeswoman for Ryan, AshLee Strong, said late Tuesday.

Tuesday night’s developments were a high-wire act for Ryan and the House moderates. Under House rules, Tuesday was the deadline to force a vote in June, and as moderates and conservatives met separately late into the night, the moderates insisted that they had the votes necessary to put their petition over the top.

“We have people waiting to sign; we’ll see how the rest of the night unfolds,” Representative Carlos Curbelo, Republican of Florida and a leader of the petition drive, said shortly before the speaker’s announcement.

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But those signatures failed to materialize, significantly weakening their hand. The chairman of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, said before Ryan’s announcement that his group wanted the House to hold votes on two immigration bills: the conservative-backed bill, which is sponsored by Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, and the still-unfinished compromise bill. He appears to have gotten just that.

“Right now, we have a framework of a bill, and there’s no legislative text,” Meadows told reporters Tuesday night. “There is a whole lot that needs to still be worked out with that.”

Democrats pounced on the setback for the moderates, many of whom — such as Representatives Curbelo, Jeff Denham of California, and Will Hurd of Texas — are high on their target list in November.

“House Republicans’ latest failure to deliver for Dreamers is made all the more inexcusable by their many empty promises that they would get the signatures and move on the discharge petition,” Javier Gamboa, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “If vulnerable members like Carlos Curbelo, Will Hurd, and Jeff Denham can’t get the job done with their party controlling all of Washington, they have no business serving in Congress.”