The overwhelming defeat of a Republican leadership-backed immigration bill on Wednesday highlighted the unsuccessful lobbying push by President Donald Trump and some members of his administration who actively pushed for the bill’s passage – though not always with the same enthusiasm as Trump’s all-capital tweet.
Trump’s support for the failed bill had wavered dramatically over the past several weeks – from the President appearing to criticize it on Fox News to personally pitching the legislation during an in-person meeting on Capitol Hill to his announcement just days later that Republicans should wait until after the midterms to address immigration.
Hours before the vote, some members of Trump’s legislative team – including Marc Short – were on Capitol Hill for general meetings when Trump posted his all-caps tweet endorsing the bill he had previously pushed, then abandoned. He referred to the bill as Goodlatte II, referring to Wednesday’s bill that was a compromise between leadership, moderates and conservatives in the House Republican conference but whose nickname evoked a hardline conservative bill – authored by Virginia GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte – which failed last week.
Trump’s tweet encouraged House Republicans to “PASS THE STRONG BUT FAIR IMMIGRATION BILL, KNOWN AS GOODLATTE II, IN THEIR AFTERNOON VOTE TODAY.”
While the White House officials did manage to talk to some lawmakers about the legislation, the timing of Trump’s last-minute intervention left few opportunities to push the bill, a White House aide said.
That aide said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had spoken to Trump before the President posted his tweet and had encouraged him to express support for the bill ahead of what was always expected to be a losing vote. A separate GOP aide told CNN House leaders have been asking Trump to weigh in definitively on the moderate-negotiated immigration proposal for a few weeks now. Wednesday’s tweet was by far the strongest endorsement, after more than a week of wishy-washy support, a senior GOP aide said before the vote, saying it would likely move some votes in favor of the bill
But the reality is “this would’ve been a whole lot more helpful a week ago,” the aide said. As for Trump’s use of all caps? “That was a personal touch,” the aide said with a chuckle. “We did not specifically request all caps for any endorsement.”
Before the compromise bill went down by an overwhelming margin, a senior House Freedom Caucus aide said GOP leadership had asked Trump to step in on Wednesday because top lawmakers had gotten “a little desperate” to drive up the vote count after the Goodlatte bill last week drew more support than initially expected. The Freedom Caucus aide said leadership would face “humiliation” if the compromise bill attracted fewer votes than the more conservative legislation – a scenario that ultimately played out when the compromise bill was defeated 121-301.
A senior GOP aide argued the vote count for the Goodlatte bill was higher than the vote count for the compromise bill only “because people knew that would fail.” That aide said since conservative members knew the compromise bill being voted on Wednesday was likely not to pass as well, many seized the opportunity to cast a vote that they could later tout as evidence of their toughness on immigration by rejecting the compromise legislation.
White House officials had quietly stopped pushing for the compromise immigration bill after Trump fired off a series of tweets last week downplaying expectations for the deal, including one that suggested Republicans “should stop wasting their time” on immigration until more Republicans get elected, a White House aide said.
A senior congressional aide confirmed White House officials were not very involved in the final round of negotiations over the bill, noting the compromise immigration deal was never meant to pass but was simply intended to blunt the momentum behind a moderate revolt, that nearly garnered enough support for a procedural maneuver to force a vote on their own. GOP leadership promised a vote on a compromise bill at a later date if they declined to sign a so-called “discharge petition.”
Trump offered a message to Republican lawmakers working to pass an immigration bill following Wednesday’s bill’s defeat.
“I want them to do what they want,” Trump said in the Oval Office.
“I told them a few hours ago, I said ‘look, pass something, or come back to something that would be a variation, but get something you want,’ ” he said. “The problem with that is that we need Democratic votes in the Senate and that’s why I don’t get overly excited with the House bill right now because it’s not going to pass in the Senate, you’re not going to get the Democrats to vote for anything.”
“We can give them 100% of what they wanted, and double it, they still wouldn’t pass it,” he said.
CNN’s Phil Mattingly and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.