Updated at 7:40 p.m. ET
House Republican leaders delayed a vote on the "consensus" immigration legislation Thursday afternoon as they scrambled to convince enough GOP lawmakers to support the measure.
The vote on that bill was initially rescheduled for Friday morning. But after a closed-door meeting that lasted more than two hours, leaders delayed it even further — to next week, according to several House Republican sources.
A more hard-line immigration bill came up for a vote earlier Thursday, as part of a compromise approach crafted by Republican leaders to satisfy GOP lawmakers' competing immigration demands.
That measure failed, as expected, but the 193 votes it earned was far more than Republican leaders had anticipated. That development emboldened supporters of the more conservative measure to demand some items from their version be added to the leadership's bill.
"We just had a bill that got 193 though, though, without really any help, in my opinion, any real significant help," said Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry. "The attorney general didn't come while it's been sitting here for six months. The homeland security secretary didn't come while it's been sitting here for six months. And it got 193 votes. That seems like a pretty good starting point."
Both Cabinet members made trips to Capitol Hill in recent days, as did President Trump, who told Republicans he backed both immigration bills. Trump's approval didn't do enough for Perry and other holdouts. "I appreciate the president's opinion and his input. But I worked on the bill a little bit," Perry said. "To me, we voted today on a bill that I thought was more indicative of where the people are and what the president originally ran on."
In addition to the policy divides, several GOP lawmakers felt that they didn't know what was in the "consensus" bill as it was still being tweaked hours before they were scheduled to vote on it.
Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, one of the moderate members who has been working with leadership to craft the compromise bill, said the delay will give members a chance to clarify details of the bill.
"Immigration policy is complex. Most members are not expert at it," Curbelo said. "I think the more members understand this bill the more comfortable they will become with it."
Curbelo said members have raised questions about how it would address issues like border security and visas for those immigrants who are in the country illegally after being brought here as children, commonly known as DREAMers.
Members were also confused because leaders were forced to update their hastily written bill after a $100-billion error was discovered. The House Rules Committee was forced to hold a special hearing at 10 p.m. Wednesday because the bill contained nearly $125 billion rather than the roughly $25 billion leaders intended to include for a border wall President Trump promised the U.S. would build during the 2016 presidential campaign.
GOP committee members were able to quickly remedy the mistake but the incident sowed further doubt among skeptics who already worried about the contents of the sweeping legislation.
Thursday evening's Republican meeting was devoted to answering many of those basic questions. "We should have done this first before we put a bill together," said Pennsylvania Rep. Lou Barletta. "It would have avoided what we're seeing right now."
The stalemate and delay underscore how far apart Republicans remain on immigration. If the issue continues to highlight disagreements within the Republican conference, it could ratchet up pressure on Ryan to step down as speaker.
Since President Trump ended the protections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, last September and punted its future to Congress, lawmakers have failed to reach a consensus on any legislation to deal with the program or with the administration's push for stepped-up border security measures.
Ahead of the votes, Ryan conceded that the goal of bringing the likely doomed measures up for a vote was to prevent moderates from gathering more signatures on a measure known as a discharge petition, which would force votes on their own set of immigration bills.
"Because a discharge petition would have brought legislation to the floor that the president would have surely vetoed, it would have been an exercise in futility," Ryan explained. "But a lot of our members want to be able to express themselves by voting for the policies that they like, so they can express their votes on the floor."
If the leadership-backed immigration bill goes down, Ryan may face increased calls to vacate his leadership post before the year's end. Conservatives have argued that the issue of immigration was a driving force in Trump's 2016 presidential victory and voters expect the party to follow through on the promise to enact more hard-line policies policing the southwest border. Ryan is not running for another term but has vowed to remain as speaker through the end of the year.
Conservatives have been frustrated for months with the way leadership handled immigration. Freedom Caucus Member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Ryan should have allowed committees to draft an immigration bill and vote on it using what is known as regular order.
Jordan told reporters that the collapse this week is further evidence that some of his Republican colleagues are unwilling to back hard-line immigration proposals that were a central part of Trump's campaign in 2016 and the GOP platform more broadly.
"The simple answer is not enough Republicans are willing to do what we told the American people we were going to do when they elected us," Jordan said. "The reason it's not going to pass is not enough members are willing to do what we said. Plain and simple."
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We're going to hear now about congressional efforts to pass an immigration bill. The House of Representatives had planned on voting this afternoon on a bill written around President Trump's immigration priorities. And with its passage in doubt, Republicans have delayed the vote until tomorrow. The GOP just can't get on the same page when it comes to immigration.
NPR's Scott Detrow is on Capitol Hill as he joins us now. Hey there, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: So why is this so difficult when you have control of the House and the Senate?
DETROW: Yeah. There are some narrow compromises that likely would have bipartisan support, could pass pretty easily. Having protections for people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, pairing that with billions of dollars for border security - that would likely pass. But President Trump is insisting that any measure has to be broad and make changes to legal immigration as well, curbing it.
That loses all Democratic support. They're willing to trade for border security but not that. So then you're left with just Republicans. And the Republican Party is really split on immigration. There are many who want permanent protections for DACA. All of the Republican leaders do. But there is a significant chunk that wants to take a much more hard-line approach and generally views that idea as amnesty.
CORNISH: Given all this, why did House Speaker Paul Ryan move forward with these votes?
DETROW: Well, he's been forced into a corner by a group of moderate Republicans who were frustrated with the situation and were on the verge of siding with Democrats to force a vote on that narrower bill that the White House opposes. So House Speaker Paul Ryan, feeling the political pressure, came up with this compromise.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PAUL RYAN: Because a discharge petition would have brought legislation to the floor that the president would have surely vetoed. It would have been an exercise in futility. But a lot of our members want to be able to express themselves by voting for the policies that they like so that they can express their votes on the floor.
DETROW: And that was a bit of an admission there that part of this bill that has now been delayed is political theater, allowing votes even though it's unlikely to pass. But Ryan is in a real political bind right now. He's a lame duck. He's retiring at the end of the year. He wants to remain speaker through then. And he needs to keep his members happy in order to stay in place.
CORNISH: But the president came to Capitol Hill - right? - and, like, lobbied House Republicans personally. What does it say that they're having such a hard time still finding the votes they need?
DETROW: Well, the president continually shifts where he stands on immigration, more broadly first saying he wants to see some sort of path for DACA, then having a real hard-line approach, and then this week going back and forth on saying he couldn't change his policy on separating families and then proceeding to do exactly that. He did come to Capitol Hill to endorse this effort.
A couple problems, though - first of all, he said he endorsed any bill they would pass, not the specific endorsement for this measure that leaders were looking for. Second, during the meeting and then later on Twitter, he insulted South Carolina Republican Mark Sanford, who lost a primary this month mostly because he's criticized President Trump. Idaho Republican Raul Labrador said that attack may have lost Trump some votes on this bill.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
RAUL LABRADOR: The reason he was there was to emphasize that he had our backs, and I think a different message was sent during that day.
DETROW: So you see it again and again. With the exception of the big tax overhaul earlier this year, the president just has not been able to close deals. And when asked what specifically he wants with a lot of these policies, he either doesn't give a clear answer or gives a clear answer and then goes and changes his mind. So there's concern. Why should I take a tough vote if the president's going to undermine what I vote for the next day?
CORNISH: And what should we be looking for tomorrow? What's set to happen?
DETROW: I think a big question - does this vote even come up? If it does come up, does it fail? Most people expect it to fail. There's not that much optimism it'll pass. After that, are there calls for House Speaker Paul Ryan to step down early from leadership?
CORNISH: NPR's Scott Detrow - Scott, thank you.
DETROW: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF RICHARD HOUGHTEN'S "SAVING A LIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.