The push toward immigration votes in the House is intensifying the divide among Republicans on one of the party's most animating issues and fueling concerns that a voter backlash could cost the GOP control of the House in November. To many conservatives, the compromise immigration proposal released this past week by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is little more than "amnesty."
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, who is close to President Donald Trump, tweeted Friday that Ryan is "trying to open our borders even more and give illegal immigrants the biggest amnesty in American history."
Passage of the bill could alienate conservatives and depress turnout at a time when enthusiasm among Democrats is high. Yet scuttling the bill could turn off independent voters, an especially important bloc for House Republicans competing in dozens of districts that Democrat Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 presidential election.
"The GOP's in a tough spot," said Republican pollster Frank Luntz. "The hard-core Trump voter has a different point of view than the ever-important independent voter, and there doesn't seem to be a middle ground." The draft legislation, resulting from intense negotiations between moderates and conservatives, includes a path to citizenship for an estimated 1.8 million young immigrants in the country illegally. The plan includes $25 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and other security measures sought by the White House.
"While the bill contains some positive provisions, including full funding for the border wall and closing loopholes in current law that sustain illegal border surges, it is still a mass amnesty," said RJ Hauman, of the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform.
"This bill hardly fulfills President Trump's bold promise to fix immigration, and sure isn't a winning message for the GOP in the midterms," Hauman said. The president had said in the interview that he wouldn't sign what was described as the "moderate" immigration bill, even though the version written by House leadership is based on his own priorities. White House officials later said the president had misspoken and didn't realize he was being asked about the compromise bill. The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, the person said.
Skittish conservative lawmakers have indicated there's little chance they would support the current plan unless Trump were to give it a full embrace.
"House Republicans are not going to take on immigration without the support and endorsement of President Trump," said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the GOP's chief deputy vote counter.
Trump has called for bipartisanship on immigration, tweeting Saturday that Democrats "can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!"
Facing a national uproar, House GOP leaders included a provision in the immigration proposal that would require families to be kept together for as long as they are in the custody of the Homeland Security Department. The proposed fix won approval from moderate House
Kelli Ward, one of McSally's main opponents in the Arizona Senate primary on Aug. 28, was more scathing in her assessment.
"Compromising on the rule of law to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants is the wrong path to take," she said of the House plan. "Congress should focus on border security and stop talking about amnesty as a solution."