ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Congress returns to Washington this week. And on the agenda for the House, a contentious debate over immigration. It's not what Republican leaders wanted. But faced with an uprising of both conservatives and moderates in the party, they relented. This week, the party strategizes on which bills to bring for a vote this month. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now to preview the immigration fight ahead.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: How does Speaker Paul Ryan plan to reconcile the competing demands between conservative and moderate Republicans on immigration?
DAVIS: Ari, I have no idea (laughter).
SHAPIRO: OK. Thanks, NPR's Sue Davis (laughter).
DAVIS: But that is what makes this so unusual. It is exceedingly rare for party leaders in any party to lose control of the floor in this kind of way. The first steps to figuring out what they're actually going to do will begin this week. As you said, Republicans are scheduled to meet Thursday morning to see what, if any, consensus they have on what this legislation should look like. The only thing we know right now is that those votes will take place the third week of June.
Adding a little extra drama into this mix is a group of Republican moderates who are still working on what's known as a discharge petition. It's a pressure tactic they're using against their own party leaders that will force votes on immigration if Paul Ryan can't come up with something they support.
SHAPIRO: OK. People who watched this show last season...
SHAPIRO: ...Will remember that in February, the Senate tried and failed to pass immigration legislation. And then Republican leaders were like, we tried it. It's done. The debate is over. It's not going to happen this year. What made House Republicans start demanding votes now?
DAVIS: Right. And when the House - when the Senate failed, Speaker Ryan's point was - we're not going to take up something that can't pass. His motivation, I think, is what all party leaders' are, is they don't want to make their members take tough votes if they don't have to. What's also interesting about what's happening now is more and more House Republicans are saying, we actually want to take those tough votes. They just want to vote on very, very different things.
Conservatives want to vote on a more broad, hard-line immigration bill that their base will like this election year. Moderates are looking at a more narrow, bipartisan bill that would create a path to citizenship for people who were brought to the U.S. as children in exchange for more border security money. So they just want very different things.
SHAPIRO: That division in the Republican Party kind of leaves an opening for Democrats to sway a vote. How are they using that leverage?
DAVIS: So almost every Democrat has signed on to that Republican discharge petition. So they're really linking arms with the moderates in the Republican Party on this to try and force a debate. You know, Democrats look at this month and they say - look, like, if they can pass a bipartisan immigration bill on the strength of their votes and get to take credit for that victory, great. And if the House fails - and I would say that the expectations at this starting point is that there's very little confidence that this ends with a bill landing on President Trump's desk - Democrats and Republicans will just continue to use it as a midterm campaign issue. You know, immigration, broadly, is very contentious and partisan. That, we know. But on this very narrow issue of protecting the people that were brought here as children, people tend to side with the Democrats. Our own polling at NPR shows that as many as two-thirds of Americans agree with Democrats that they should be given some kind of legal status.
SHAPIRO: And just briefly on immigration, there's also the question of enforcement, where there's been a lot of outrage over the Trump administration's crackdown on the U.S.-Mexico border, the policy of separating family members trying to enter the U.S. Do you expect that to come up in the House?
DAVIS: This is absolutely going to come up. It's only adding to how unpredictable this debate is going to be this month. Democrats say they're working on bills that would counteract what the Trump administration is doing at the border. But we should note, Republicans - and President Trump, in particular - feel very strongly the opposite way about the politics of this, that cracking down on the border is going to help Republicans in this year's midterm elections.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Susan Davis joining us from the Capitol. Thanks, Sue.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
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