House conservatives are warning Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican leaders not to add deportation protections for millions of young immigrants living here illegally to a year-end spending bill to keep the government open.
President Donald Trump is phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but gave Congress six months to act before recipients' work permits begin to expire.
It's often easier for congressional leaders to get legislation passed as part of must-pass spending bills rather than as a stand-alone measure. Rep. Mark Walker, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said just such a scenario was broached by a colleague when Ryan met with the group's leaders on Tuesday.
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Walker said that if the scenario discussed became a reality, "I know the RSC would have a problem with that."
At the White House, Trump also was asked about the prospects of extending the program as part of a budget deal in December.
"I would love to do a DACA deal, but we have to get something very substantial for it, including the wall, including security, including a strong border," Trump said.
Democratic lawmakers are insisting on a legislative solution for about 800,000 beneficiaries of the so-called DACA program. They know a majority of Americans favor allowing the young immigrants, known as "Dreamers," to stay in the U.S. legally. For many who were brought into the country illegally by their parents as young children, America is the only home they know.
"They approach me in all kinds of places wherever I am, and they come to me and talk about their experience and their fears. It is often the case that they will then break down and sob, almost uncontrollably, because they are terrified," Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said in a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday.
Harris added that she would not vote for any end-of-the-year spending bill "until we are clear about what we are going to do to protect and take care of our DACA young people in this country."
The strong feelings on both sides of the issue will make it difficult for Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to find a legislative fix that can pass both chambers.
The Republican Study Committee has more than 150 members and is a leading voice for conservative members. Walker said that a poll of the group's members showed 83 percent believe that enhancing border security must be a precursor to any legislative fix for Dreamers.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a former chairman of the group, said "we're nervous about the talk of putting it on the big spending bill in December."
"I think we've got to construct the border security wall. We got to stop money going to sanctuary cities. I think it has to be that bold. ... And I think that needs to happen first, quite frankly," Jordan said.
Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, which includes dozens of the most conservative of House Republicans, also said he didn't believe DACA should be included as part of a year-end spending bill.
"I think it will be a problem for us. I think it will be a problem for the speaker," Meadows said.
A spokeswoman for Ryan sought to tamp down concerns that Ryan has already committed to a particular course of action.
"There is no plan for this and we continue to discuss with Republicans the best path forward," said AshLee Strong, Ryan's press secretary.