AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
A group of House Republicans are trying to do something unusual. They want to force a vote on immigration legislation even over the objections of their own party leaders.
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MARIO DIAZ-BALART: This bold move will force a vote - force a vote on the floor. And this is an issue that will not fix itself.
CORNISH: The plan from Florida Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and others is to round up enough signatures to go around House Speaker Paul Ryan and his leadership team and schedule a vote on at least four immigration bills. And they want to do it before the general election in November. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is here to explain more.
Hey there, Kelsey.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.
CORNISH: So how does a small group of Republicans essentially force a vote on something as controversial as immigration policy?
SNELL: Yeah, they are trying to use a procedural maneuver that's usually used by the party that isn't in power. And it isn't usually successful. It's something called a discharge petition, which really means that they need 218 people to sign a sheet of paper that says that they want to vote on a bill that leaders have refused to consider. Petitions like this aren't rare. But what is rare is when they succeed. It has happened only twice in the past 20 years, and it is a big surprise to see it come from Republicans challenging their own leadership.
CORNISH: On top of that, immigration is basically political kryptonite. So how close is this group to actually reaching their goal?
SNELL: Well, first, this seemed like a long shot. This is not something that's brand-new. They've been talking about it for several weeks. And the original group of seven backers that released this petition this morning doubled their ranks in just a few hours. Now, they say they're expecting all 193 Democrats to back the plan, meaning they need about 10 more Republicans to get on board. And honestly, that small number is pretty stunning and is much closer than these usually get.
CORNISH: I'm going to assume that Republican House leadership is not in support of this plan.
CORNISH: What can they actually do about it?
SNELL: Yeah. In short, no, they do not support this. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told several of us earlier today in the halls that he doesn't like discharge petitions in general and he'd rather do things the regular order way. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he wants to keep working on bills through those normal channels. And staff tells me that they want to vote on bills that actually have a chance of getting the president's signature.
But the bill's sponsors say they're worried about getting a bill that can also pass the Senate, where Republicans need 60 votes to pass just about anything. And that means they need Democrats on board. Now, they picked the four-vote plan so that Ryan could work with the White House on their own solution. Here is what another one of the sponsors Jeff Denham said.
JEFF DENHAM: I assume the speaker's having those conversations with the White House on what they would accept. But ultimately, we have to pass something that's going to get 60 votes in the Senate as well. And so we're very cognizant of that as well.
CORNISH: Jeff Denham, a California Republican, where immigration is a very big deal in his district.
CORNISH: Right, which brings us to the point of November and this being essentially a risky strategy. Could it essentially backfire on this group to try and force the House to take up something as controversial as immigration legislation so close to an election?
SNELL: Yeah, that's absolutely a risk. And it's a risk that we expect the speaker and his allies to make to many Republicans to try to get them not to sign this. But there are 23 Republicans in districts that were won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. That's 23 Republicans who may see passing a bill to protect DACA recipients, those people who are in the country illegally after being brought here as children, as a good thing. They wanted to get this done. It's something Republicans had promised. And there are other vulnerable Republicans like Mia Love in Utah who are signing on. Here's what she said today at a press conference.
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MIA LOVE: I'm not abdicating my responsibilities to the White House. We want the White House to come up with their plans. We want the Senate to come up with their plans. But our job is to come up with our plans and to make sure that all of the bills that all of us have worked really hard on actually have a voice on the floor.
SNELL: Now, that's a pretty strong statement. And it speaks to this moment where Republicans are feeling like they haven't had the opportunity to vote on these things. Now, a lot of immigration bills already failed in the Senate. But the House hasn't had those opportunities. And they want to bring up things like a more moderate bill like the - you know, that would protect DACA recipients than something a lot stronger like the Goodlatte bill. So there are a lot of people who think passing something like this is just good policy.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell. Kelsey, thank you.
SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.