Politics

Trump questions the 'purpose' of House immigration bills only hours before critical votes

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump questions the "purpose" of House immigration bills that he previously said he supports.
  • The president expresses frustration that the bills would almost certainly fail in the Senate.
  • Trump has made immigration into a GOP midterm priority, alleging that Democrats want to "obstruct" to gain an edge in November's elections.
President Donald Trump addresses a meeting of the National Space Council in the East Room of the White House in Washington, June 18, 2018.
Leah Millis | Reuters

President Donald Trump downplayed the importance of House Republican immigration bills Thursday only hours before the chamber plans to vote on them.

The president's message likely will not help GOP leaders, who have sought Trump's help in urging wavering members to back the legislation. On Tuesday night, Trump told the House Republican caucus that he supports the measures, which broadly meet his border security goals. He even told lawmakers that he "1,000 percent" backs their effort to pass a bill.

In a tweet Thursday morning, the president questioned why House passage of the GOP bills matters, because they will almost certainly fail in the Senate. Republicans, who hold 51 seats in that chamber, need the support of nine Democrats to reach the 60-vote threshold to pass most legislation.

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Trump signs executive order to keep migrant families together

Trump claimed Senate Democrats "are only looking to obstruct," which they think "is good for them" in November's midterm elections. He again urged Republicans to end the legislative filibuster, saying, "it is killing you!"

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly said he has no interest in changing the filibuster rule.

The House plans to vote on two immigration bills later Thursday. The GOP crafted one as a compromise between the demands of centrist and conservative Republicans.

Rep. Ryan Costello, a Pennsylvania Republican who will not run for re-election in November, tweeted Thursday that Trump's comment "undermines getting undecided GOP members to support the compromise bill."

"I think that this is going to blow up. I think the bill's going to go down," Costello told MSNBC shortly after the tweeted statement. He noted that centrist Republicans could start another effort to force a vote on immigration measures which could potentially win bipartisan support. A previous push to compel votes was halted temporarily when Republicans reached the compromise deal.

The compromise legislation would fund the president's proposed border wall, offer a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children and limit legal immigration. The measure would also try to stop the Trump administration's separation of migrant children from parents. Amid a bipartisan uproar, the president attempted to address the problem with an executive order Wednesday, but it is unclear if the measure will actually stop the practice.

The House will also consider a separate, more conservative bill Thursday. It would not include a pathway to citizenship for the immigrants, known as "Dreamers," and would more dramatically curb legal entry than the other piece of legislation.

Even before Trump's tweet Thursday, House Republicans appeared to have a tough path to passing either bill. Centrists insist on a pathway to citizenship for the young immigrants. Conservatives oppose it and consider it a form of amnesty.

"We're not there yet, but we're working on it," Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington Republican who heads the House GOP conference, told Fox News on Thursday about reaching the needed 218 votes.

Asked Thursday what the House would do if both bills failed Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said "we will cross that bridge if we get to it." He appeared to lower expectations for the chamber passing a bill, saying the goal of GOP leaders was to stop the effort to force votes and allow members to "express themselves by voting for policies that they like."

Trump has appeared to look ahead to November with much of his immigration rhetoric in recent days, positioning the issue as a GOP priority in the battle for Congress.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi responded to Trump on Thursday, saying, "Democrats are dedicated to securing our border, but we don't think putting children in cages is the way to do it." She said the GOP's bill "may be a compromise with the devil, but it's not a compromise with Democrats."

Trump made cracking down on illegal immigration a top campaign issue when he won the presidency in 2016. His administration's splitting of children from parents came about as a result of its "zero tolerance" policy, which criminally prosecutes all adults crossing U.S. borders illegally. More than 2,000 children have been separated from parents since early May, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

In recent days, the president has repeatedly tried to blame Democrats for the family separation policy — even though his administration implemented it. He has also contended that Democrats do not want to resolve immigration issues so that it will motivate more people to vote for them in November.

Republicans aim to hold on to majorities in both the House and Senate in the midterms. They need to prevent Democrats from winning 23 Republican-held seats to keep control of the House.

The GOP appears to have an easier task in keeping the Senate, as 26 Democrats or independents who caucus with them face re-election. Only nine Republican-held Senate seats are up for grabs.