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Republicans scramble to figure out next steps on immigration after Trump scuttles plan

NBC News logo NBC News 6/15/2018 Rebecca Shabad
Image: Justice Department Inspector General Releases Report on Clinton Email ProbeRyan's new immigration mission: Nail down a Plan B.: House Speaker Paul Ryan had told lawmakers the president was excited about the immigration plan.  © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC House Speaker Paul Ryan had told lawmakers the president was excited about the immigration plan. 

WASHINGTON — Republicans scrambled Friday to figure out their next move on immigration after President Donald Trump said he wouldn’t sign a compromise bill House GOP leaders released to lawmakers Thursday afternoon.

The new uncertainty comes just days after Speaker Paul Ryan told Republican members that the president had fully endorsed their decision to hold votes on the moderate compromise and a more conservative measure sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

The House majority whip, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., had been planning to gather support for the moderate measure on Friday, but a House GOP leadership source told NBC News that that plan was being postponed while members seek more clarity on the White House's position, with Republicans planning to return to the discussion next week.

House GOP Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry said Friday the vote counting was on hold until then because presidential buy-in was essential. “House Republicans are not going to take on immigration without the support and endorsement of President Trump,” he said.

In an interview on "Fox and Friends" Friday morning outside the White House, the president said he's looking at both bills, but that he "most certainly won't sign the more moderate one."

Hours later, Trump tweeted, "The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda. Any Immigration Bill MUST HAVE full funding for the Wall, end Catch & Release, Visa Lottery and Chain, and go to Merit Based Immigration. Go for it! WIN!" The items listed by the president were all included in the compromise bill released Thursday.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., one of the negotiators of the compromise bill and a close ally of the president, said Friday that he had not urged the president to oppose the compromise bill. Meadows would not say if he supports the legislation, saying only that he’s “favorably disposed to the framework” that was discussed but that he had not read the bill yet.

Several House Republicans on Friday questioned whether Trump was aware of what's in the bill.

"I saw the interview and I think that he was responding to the word 'moderate.' Everything he said about his concerns are all in that bill and so I’m very disappointed and we just need to move on and support this legislation and I hope that the president reads the bill," said Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo.

"Maybe there will be some clarifying remarks this afternoon," Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., chairman of the Republican Study Committee, told reporters. "I don't think the bill is dead yet."

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a moderate, told reporters, "I’m hoping that once [Trump] finishes looking at both bills that hopefully he’ll realize that this is a good bill.”

But others suggested that the bill is dead.

Reacting to Trump's remark, former Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said, "I don’t think it improves its chances, does it?"

"I think if the president doesn’t support the moderate compromise, then there’s no way that the moderate compromise will pass the House because I think [for] some conservative members, that will be sufficient reason not to vote for it," Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pa., told NBC News.

Trump's threat shocked Capitol Hill, where leaders had stressed White House involvement in the process surrounding negotiations over the measure. Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told his members earlier this week that he had spoken to Trump about the planned immigration strategy and that the president was excited about it. The bill itself was based on the president's immigration plan, he said, saying at a press conference earlier this week that Republicans had been "working hand in glove with the administration on this."

The compromise bill released Thursday after two weeks of discussion includes provisions that would provide legal status for people who came to the U.S. illegally as children — including a path to citizenship — bar the separation of children from their parent or legal guardian at the border, and provide $25 billion in additional funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border.

Ryan has long made clear that he only wants to bring legislation up for a floor vote as long as the president will sign it.

The decision to craft the compromise bill stemmed from negotiations that led to a deal between moderates and conservatives on Tuesday that would allow floor votes on the two measures next week. That strategy came in reaction to the threat of a discharge petition, though that effort failed to garner 218 signatures needed by the Tuesday deadline in order to trigger immigration floor votes this month.

Now that Trump has signaled his opposition to the bill, moderates could return to the petition, which only needs two more signatures in order to force floor votes on a range of immigration proposals. Discharge petitions can only come to the floor on the second and fourth Mondays of the month when the House is in session, which would mean moderates could still have the opportunity to force floor votes next month, ahead of the lower chamber's month-long August recess.

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., one of the primary drivers of the discharge petition, said Friday that efforts to get a vote on immigration next week will continue.

Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., another driver of the discharge petition, said that the president’s most recent waffling should be the signal to wavering GOP congressmen to sign the petition, because they would not be able to depend on Trump or Ryan to address the issue.

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