House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy warned centrist Republicans that their effort to force a vote to protect Dreamers could cost the party its House majority and empower Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
In a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning, the California Republican told rank-and-file members to “put your phones down” and listen, according to a GOP source in the room. The prospects of Republicans keeping the House are improving, he said, and “if the election was today, we win.”
But McCarthy cautioned that “we cannot disrupt ourselves,” saying in no uncertain terms that a “discharge petition” to force votes on such a controversial issue six months out from an election would do just that. Passing a bipartisan immigration bill that the base hates, McCarthy argued, would depress Republican turnout, and possibly cost the party the House.
GOP “intensity levels are still not there, and discharge petitions release the power of the that the American people gave us the responsibly to hold,” McCarthy said, according to the source present. “When you release that power, the majority goes to Nancy.”
He added: “If you want to depress intensity, this is the No. 1 way to do it. We can debate internally but don’t let someone else like Nancy decide our future.”
Supporters of the discharge petition pushed back on McCarthy during the conference meeting. According to another source in the room, Reps. Jeff Denham of California and Carlos Curbelo of Florida defended their move by arguing that leadership promised months ago that they’d address DACA. Indeed, Curbelo and several other Republicans who have signed onto the petition had held back on forcing the issue because they believed leadership would eventually move on something.
But when the Supreme Court decided to consider Trump’s move to end the program this fall, momentum to find a solution stalled.
McCarthy’s comments come just a week after centrist Republicans, many of whom are typically staunch allies of leadership, bucked Speaker Paul Ryan’s team and filed a discharge petition on several immigration proposals to resolve the status of so-called Dreamers. If a discharge petition garners 218 signatures, the centrist lawmakers can force a vote on their plans to codify the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
With Democratic support, those proposals stand a solid chance of passage — even if a majority of House Republicans vote against them.
Centrists and GOP leaders alike recognize the moderates likely will collect enough signatures eventually to force the issue. All Democrats are expected to sign onto the discharge petition, and enough Republicans are frustrated at the lack of movement to protect Dreamers to put the petition over the top.
Still, Ryan and McCarthy, who met with the president on the matter Tuesday, have tried to persuade members to hold off.
“We don’t want to advance something that we know will just get vetoed,” Ryan told reporters Wednesday morning.