House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other Republican leaders in Congress on Friday urged President Trump not to terminate an Obama-era program that has allowed nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants to live and work in the country without fear of deportation.
Ryan said in a radio interview that it was up to Congress to determine the fate of the immigrants enrolled in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which offers two-year work permits to those who have been in the country illegally since they were children, a group known as “dreamers.”
Asked if Trump should follow through on campaign pledges to end DACA, Ryan told WCLO in his hometown of Janesville, Wis.: “I actually don’t think he should do that. I believe that this is something that Congress has to fix.”
Trump is mulling DACA’s future ahead of a deadline set for Tuesday from Texas and nine other states to file a lawsuit against the program unless the president rescinds it. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Friday afternoon that a decision could come later in the day or over the weekend. “We love the dreamers,” Trump said. “We think the dreamers are terrific.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later told reporters that the president would reveal his decision Tuesday. “We want to make sure the decision is done correctly,” she said.
In the radio interview, Ryan acknowledged that Republican lawmakers balked when President Barack Obama created the program through executive action in 2012, calling the move an unconstitutional use of his powers.
“President Obama did not have the legislative authority to do what he did. You can’t as an executive, write law out of thin air. … We’ve made that clear,” Ryan said.
But the House speaker said the undocumented immigrants “are people who are in limbo. These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home. And so I really do believe there that there needs to be a legislative solution.”
In recent days, the president has reportedly been split between competing advice from his advisers. Immigration hardliners, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have said the program would lose in court while moderates, such as Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, have said terminating it would be a political liability.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) also said he had lobbied the president not to rescind the program. In a statement, Hatch said Congress must provide “a workable, permanent solution for individuals who entered the country unlawfully as children through no fault of their own and who have built their lives here.”
Business leaders from major companies including Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google have also publicly urged Trump not to end the program, citing fears over the havoc it would cause. Trump is weighing a decision to phase out DACA by ending new applications and renewals but allowing those currently enrolled to finish their two-year work permits. Under that scenario, more than 1,000 DACA recipients would lose their jobs each day through 2018, according to a study from the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank, and Fwd.us, an immigration advocacy group.
Meanwhile, a small number of congressional Republicans are pitching a “conservative Dream Act” as a fail-safe, writing their own version of a Dream Act bill in 2010 that offered a path to citizenship for dreamers but failed in the Senate.
Yet it’s far from clear that Republicans could wrangle the votes to pass that bill in the House — or where it might fit in a crowded September session already thrown off by Hurricane Harvey.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), who represents a Denver swing district, said Thursday that if Trump ends DACA he would use procedural maneuvers to force a vote on the Bridge Act — an encouraging sign for Democrats, who long said that they need just a handful of Republicans to join with them to force a vote on such legislation.
Several other Republicans in diverse swing districts, including Reps. David Valadao (R-Calif.), Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Will Hurd (R-Tex.), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), have said they would support seeking protections for DACA recipients.
In the Senate, the Bridge Act is co-sponsored by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who have said that it would likely have the support to pass.
In the House, the math is trickier. Coffman said on Twitter that he would use a discharge petition, a tactic that can send a bill to the floor without the approval of the committee, a way to rescue legislation that the majority party does not support. In theory, the Bridge Act could come to the floor, and pass, if 23 Republicans joined Coffman and every House Democrat to support it.
Most House Republicans, however, share the president’s opposition to DACA and to legal status for undocumented immigrants. In 2010, just eight House Republicans voted for the original version of the Dream Act; only two of those Republicans, Florida’s Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart, remain in Congress. In 2015, 26 House Republicans voted against an amendment that would have defunded DACA; six have since left the House, although several were replaced by Democrats.
At the moment, Coffman’s Bridge Act has just 12 Republican co-sponsors. A separate rewrite of the Dream Act, the Recognizing America’s Children Act sponsored by Curbelo, with Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) drafting a companion bill in the Senate, has just 18 co-sponsors, all Republicans. Both bills would go against a pledge Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan has made to conservatives — that no immigration bill would get a vote without majority support from the majority party.
Congressional Democrats are more united in their response to DACA. The party is widely expected to use a Trump decision to end the program to withhold support for the spending bill and other measures. As in previous years, GOP leaders may need Democratic votes to offset opposition to any spending plan from fiscal conservatives.
“This is the time of year when Republicans need Democrats to look like they’re not crazy,” said one Democratic aide, who asked for anonymity to speak frankly about party strategy. “If the president pulls the trigger on DACA, that is going to be a factor in whether they can get any Democrats to cooperate with them to help get some of this stuff across the finish line.”