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Can Congressional Republicans Find Common Ground On Immigration?


While the Senate failed to pass an immigration bill months ago, House Republicans are heading to a showdown. One camp wants to give legal protections to DREAMers, people who came to the United States as children and whose future in the country is now in doubt. More hard-line Republicans say those protections could amount to amnesty, and the bill needs to include more limits on immigration. If they don't reach an agreement, the moderates could force a vote without the support of the House leadership.

We're going to hear now from a lawmaker in each camp, beginning with the more centrist Republican voice. Congressman Jeff Denham of California, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JEFF DENHAM: You got it. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: There's been some conflicting information today over whether your camp has reached a deal with the immigration hard-liners. Do you have a deal?

DENHAM: No. There is no agreement in place right now. There was an offer of some new ideas at last night's meeting before our conference this morning. Conference this morning laid out everything in front of all members of the Republican Party. And now we're waiting to see it in writing. We hope to have an agreement, but you've got to put it on paper before we can actually iron out the details.

SHAPIRO: And if it doesn't come together, are you still open to working with Democrats to force a floor vote against leaders' wishes, which is a procedure known as a discharge petition?

DENHAM: I want to work with Democrats regardless. I think that a bipartisan solution is the best way to get a bill not only out of the House but one that can get 60 votes in the Senate and signed into law. Our goal here is to make law and actually have a permanent fix for DREAMers. So we are not backing down. We are very firm with our deadline of next Tuesday. That is the final day to bring this up on a discharge petition by June 25.

SHAPIRO: If you go against House leaders' wishes and bring up a bill with the support of a majority of Democrats and a smaller number of Republicans, is there any chance that could ever become law, or is this all just symbolic? I mean, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said senators won't vote on a bill unless President Trump would sign it.

DENHAM: Sure, well, we we do believe that Bob Goodlatte, the Judiciary chair, has a vote on his bill. He should get a vote on that. The speaker and the president also have a piece of legislation in here as well. They can put together whatever they want that the president will sign, but ultimately it still has to get 218 votes to get out of the House. The USA Act is not only bipartisan but a bill that we are adding border security to so that we can get the president's support as well. Whatever moves out of the House, we would expect the Senate to take up. And we want to pass over a bill that will get 60 votes.

SHAPIRO: This kind of war within your own party is pretty extraordinary, especially in an election year. Do you think this could have an impact on the midterms?

DENHAM: I think doing nothing could have an impact on the midterms. I believe that we've got to do the job that we were elected to do and provide leadership here in the House and resolve an issue that not only the American public is focused on but the president, who continues to tweet about it often. We've got to find a bipartisan solution and get it done.

SHAPIRO: As you know, polls consistently show that a majority of Americans supports letting DREAMers stay in the country with legal protections. You are in a tight race in your district, where Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Are you worried that if Congress does not pass a bill, it could cost you your seat?

DENHAM: No. I've always done very well in this district. They continue to spend millions against me every election cycle. I continue to lead the top of the ticket in my district and will continue to do so. You do that by working hard in your district and letting people know what you're fighting for and how important these issues are. People in my district understand that not only is immigration one of the top issues in my district, but I've continuously focused on it as well. And I'm willing to put it all out on the line to address it here in Congress.

SHAPIRO: Finally, just briefly, Paul Ryan has said he's not running for re-election. He's a lame-duck leader. Do you think at this point he's still effective, or does he need to leave early?

DENHAM: I think he's been very effective. And certainly in this debate on immigration, he's not only held a number of meetings in his office with a cross section of members of our conference, but he continues to be a strong leader on a variety of issues that are going to the floor now. We want to make sure that he continues to do the job that he was elected to do.

SHAPIRO: Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of California, thanks for joining us today.

DENHAM: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: And now from the more conservative wing of the Republican Party, Congressman Dave Brat of Virginia is with us. Thanks for being here.

DAVE BRAT: Hey. You bet. Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Do you think there will be a deal among Republicans, or are you concerned that you may be driving your more moderate colleagues into the arms of Democrats?

BRAT: Well, yeah, I want to clarify a little of the reporting you laid out there. You said there's one side that wants to provide protections for DACA kids, and then there's another group, implying that the other group doesn't want to. And you implied that Denham's in a centrist group. Center usually means the middle if you look it up in Webster's. And so he's working with 25 Republicans to go make a deal with Steny Hoyer and 200 Democrats. And...

SHAPIRO: He says he would rather make a deal with you. And I wonder whether you think...

BRAT: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...That's likely to happen.

BRAT: Well, I just want to lay out the predicate first. He's also opposed to Paul Ryan, and he's opposed to Majority Leader McCarthy. And he's opposed to Whip Scaseli. And so...

SHAPIRO: The way you're talking about him does not sound like somebody who you're eager to work alongside. It sounds a little bit antagonistic.

BRAT: Well, no, I'm - yeah, you - well, it's not antagonistic. It's - we made promises to the American people who we represent. And so we represent the Republican platform. So we made promises to a platform. We didn't agree to work on the Democrat platform, right? And so we had elections that validated this across the country. I ran on it. The president ran on it. We all run on it. And so the promise wasn't to work to do Democrat policy.

And so their policy - they know they've structured this queen-of-the-hill bill that will end up in an amnesty for 10 million and won't do anything on the borders and won't do anything to solve the underlying problem. And you'll - if you pass any of the Democrat bills, you'll end up with another amnesty in three to five years. And that's the fundamental problem. We don't want this anxiety in our culture. We want to all have world peace and "Kumbaya."

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BRAT: So the way to do that is to have the rule of law and good policy, right? The folks that are fleeing...

SHAPIRO: This does not sound like the talk of somebody who feels like he's on the brink of a handshake.

BRAT: I sure am. We had the...

SHAPIRO: You think you can get a deal?

BRAT: We had the deal. The compromise deal was called the Goodlatte bill that does deal with 700,000 DACA kids. That's the Republican bill that every - we had 200 Republicans for that. And you're setting this up as this moderate group of centrists is taking on the world. It's total false. We have the Goodlatte bill which solves all the problem, does E-Verify so you won't have this happen again.

And the folks that are coming here - right? - we - I worked at the World Bank in the poverty section on behalf of sub-Saharan Africa. I worked on the Philippine section. But Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala - they're coming here because they don't have the rule of law. They don't have functioning free markets.

SHAPIRO: Whatever bill...

BRAT: And just - I mean, let that sink in a second, though. You want to have a deal, but you've got to listen for a sec. If you want to truly help the poor, you have to make their country successful. We cannot house 7 billion people.

SHAPIRO: Whatever bill might eventually pass, do you agree with...

BRAT: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...Congressman Denham that if nothing passes, there could be negative consequences for Republicans?

BRAT: Sure. We want to solve the issue. That's what I just got done saying. They - the Goodlatte bill solves the immigration problem long-run. Reagan failed on it. And by the way, Senator Obama ran on this, right? He ran on E-Verify. Nancy Pelosi did. Hillary Clinton did. Bill Clinton did in his inauguration address. Barbara Jordan, a great civil rights leader...

SHAPIRO: Congressman Brat...

BRAT: All of them ran on this...

SHAPIRO: With just 30 seconds to go...

BRAT: ...Right? And so it's not like we're in the mainstream here, right?

SHAPIRO: I want to ask you the same question I asked Congressman Denham. Do you think Paul Ryan is still an effective leader on this, or does he need to step down before January?

BRAT: Well, Paul Ryan did promise us that we would get a standalone vote on the Goodlatte bill. And so the problem here is Denham and the group of 25 Republicans have leapfrogged over our leadership and are - and have taken control of the floor if they do this, right? And so it - there's nothing Paul Ryan could have done about it.

SHAPIRO: All right.

BRAT: The question is, what will the leader do after they take control of the floor with the Democrats? Then that's an interesting issue.

SHAPIRO: Congressman Dave Brat, Republican of Virginia, thanks so much for joining us today.

BRAT: You bet, anytime. Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.