GOP moderates, step up on DACA discharge

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., leaves after promoting this year's renewal of the farm bill during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 17, 2018. GOP leaders have crafted the bill as a measure for tightening work and job training requirements for food stamps. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

EUREKA: SIGNS OF INDEPENDENT LIFE among Republican House members!

In recent days, 20 Republican congressmen have signed a discharge petition aimed at forcing legislation out of committee and onto the floor, the better to resolve the standoff over DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — and the Dreamers. Those are the undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as youngsters, have grown up and gone to school here, and hope to become citizens. If five more GOP members sign aboard — and all 193 House Democrats join them, as expected — this Congress could then take the issue up.

When the Trump administration announced the impending end of DACA last fall, meaning that the Dreamers could again face deportation, GOP lawmakers were full of talk about fashioning a legislative compromise to replace the Obama administration’s executive-action program. But though President Trump showed initial enthusiasm, the White House soon backtracked and began making big demands in exchange for Trump’s support for DACA legislation. When a federal judge stayed the administration’s hand on dismantling the program, the urgency for a DACA fix evaporated.


But now, with the congressional midterm elections on the horizon, Republicans in competitive districts with a significant presence of immigrants want to see the issue addressed, for fear it could otherwise be their undoing. Thus they’ve signed onto the discharge petition.

Get Arguable in your inbox:
Jeff Jacoby on everything from politics to pet peeves to the passions of the day.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The Republican leadership generally uses its power to keep from the floor any legislation that doesn’t have the support of a majority of Republican members. That means legislation that could otherwise pass the House with bipartisan support is instead bottled up in committee.

DACA falls into that category. House Speaker Paul Ryan is trying to discourage discharge efforts, saying that he doesn’t want to bring something to the floor that would draw a Trump veto, and alluding to a plan House leadership and the White House are supposedly developing.

“They are in a panic mode,” US Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Worcester, says of Ryan and his team, while GOP members “are under enormous pressure from their leadership not to sign it.”

In trying to thwart the discharge efforts, Ryan obviously wants to forestall a battle that would divide Republican representatives. The debate would see many GOP members cast a “no” vote that could hurt them in the fall. It could also create problems for GOP senators if DACA legislation passed the House only to be tied up or voted down in the upper chamber.


But Ryan’s anti-discharge effort shortchanges Congress’s role as a coequal branch of government. The House should hold Trump to the profession he made that January day when he gathered Republicans and Democrats at the White House for an open-to-the-TV-cameras DACA discussion. “My positions are going to be what the people in this room come up with,” Trump said. “If they come to me with things I’m not in love with, I’m going to do it, because I respect them.”

The White House’s stance has changed since then. Still, faced with a choice of signing or vetoing bipartisan DACA legislation, Trump might accept it. “Maybe we’ll catch him on a day when he is on his medication and back in a mood to sign a bill,” quips McGovern.

We will never know, however, unless enough Republican House members start the ball rolling by bucking their leadership and helping bring DACA to the floor for a long-overdue debate.