WASHINGTON — Republicans — in a last minute decision — decided to postpone a vote on a comprehensive immigration bill for the second time in less than a day, a sign of the struggles leaders are having to unite the conference on such a contentious topic.
An aide told CNN that the plan is for members to work over the weekend to try to craft a bill that can gain more support next week.
“There’s active negotiations,” said Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas. “They are just going to try and take (it) and add a few things to it to get another 20 votes.”
According to two people in the room, the decision to postpone the vote came in the final 20 minutes of the conference meeting when many of the members had already left. Majority Whip Steve Scalise and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy “saw a potential opening” in the discussions, per one person. The decision was made to try to make something happen in the days ahead.
“It was a well-attended conference where it gave our entire conference an opportunity to have a full discussion on these very important issues,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican from California who has worked with lawmakers for weeks on compromise legislation.
“While we’ve all been in negotiations the last several weeks, we feel like we’ve continued these good discussions on, but two new issues came up. We’re having a discussion about E-verify and ag jobs, two more very important issues that we have yet to discuss so far, so we’re going to spend the weekend and delay a vote until next week and see if we can come to a compromise on those two final issues,” he added.
For days, aides and members had been trying to tamp down expectations for the compromise vote, noting that the most important thing was to put a bill on the floor to assuage concerns of House moderates rather than actually pass something, but the move Thursday night suggested that there was still more work to be done. And the optics became more complicated for leaders Thursday when the conservative immigration bill — the one that members had said would not have the votes and shorthanded as the Goodlatte bill after Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia — earned more votes than expected although it still failed.
The announcement that the vote was postponed came at the end of two-hour conference meeting where members went point by point through the massive immigration bill.
“I think the fact they’re going through the bill section by section at 5:15 p.m. the day before the bill is going to be voted on is indicative of there is more work that needs to be done,” Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei said before the bill was postponed.