Immigration Debate Shines Spotlight On Divided House GOP House Republicans are struggling to find consensus on an immigration bill that can unify the GOP's ideological divide over how to address the legal status of people brought to the U.S. as children.
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Immigration Debate Shines Spotlight On Divided House GOP

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Immigration Debate Shines Spotlight On Divided House GOP

Immigration Debate Shines Spotlight On Divided House GOP

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The question of how to address immigration continues to twist the Republican Party into knots. GOP House members spent hours in a basement meeting room in the Capitol today trying to avert a rebellion from within their ranks. Elsewhere on the program, we hear from two of those lawmakers.

And joining us now to sort out what is happening is NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: So what happened today? And are they any closer to actually having a deal?

SNELL: It kind of depends on who you ask. It was kind of a long day up here on the Hill where everybody was waiting and negotiating, and we didn't really get a ton of real answers. House Republicans had what House Speaker Paul Ryan likes to call a family conversation. They are trying very hard to get a Republican-only immigration deal that they could pass with 218 Republicans and no Democrats. Now, that means getting conservatives to agree with moderates.

And it seems like the group of moderates that we've been talking about that are trying to go around Ryan to force immigration votes are going to back down from their big plan for what we're calling discharge petition, the petition to force those votes - that they're only going to wait for a couple of days. And none of what they're talking about is in writing, so right now it's just kind of a war of competing talking points.

SHAPIRO: Tell us the specific points of disagreement. What are these different groups proposing?

SNELL: Yeah, the fight right now comes down to citizenship and a system that would require all employers to check the citizenship of their employees. People may have heard it called E-Verify. It's a federal database that already exists but is pretty controversial because it would force everybody to use it. Now, again, those are familiar issues. And it's - we've heard them in many, many conversations about immigration since 2013. And actually, for as long as 30 years, they are trying to figure out whether or not they want a specific and different pathway to citizenship for DREAMers or for other people who are here in the country illegally after being brought here as children.

SHAPIRO: Kelsey, how are Republicans still so divided over this? It was central to the presidential campaign two years ago. Republicans have promised to resolve this for years. How is this still dividing the party so deeply?

SNELL: Yeah. And we heard earlier in those interviews with Congressman Dave Brat of Virginia and Jeff Denham of California when you spoke to them earlier that they agree in the general concept - that they want secure borders, they want a solution for DREAMers. But they can't agree on that citizenship issue. It's really difficult for them. And there are a couple of things to blame here.

One is that Denham represents a state that's home to the biggest population of DREAMers in the country. The other thing is that the Republican Party's just really polarized right now. That's partially because there are partisan district lines in some states. And there are some people like Brat who genuinely were elected by voters primarily who are further to the right. And they're more likely to be in line with Trump on immigration.

Denham is one of a shrinking number of Republicans who represent areas where there's a mix of voters - of voters of different races and genders and just different perspectives. And Democrats are saying that, you know, he just doesn't represent them, that the Republican Party just doesn't represent that kind of view anymore. And that's part of why he is at real risk of losing his race in November.

SHAPIRO: It seems doubtful that anything that passed Congress could actually get the president's signature. So is this all symbolic? What's the point of all of this?

SNELL: That's exactly right. And it's exactly the question that I asked more than half a dozen Republicans today. And I didn't get a clear answer other than the fact that this is politics. These guys haven't voted on immigration. They need to go back to voters and at least say that they tried. It also could send a message to President Trump about what can pass in Congress. And that could impact what he's willing to support in the future because if you think about it, this is part of a longer conversation. They don't have to do immigration this year.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

SNELL: It could wait.

SHAPIRO: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell, thank you.

SNELL: Thank you.

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