GOP leaders' goal is to head off a drive by unhappy moderates to force House votes on legislation soon that would provide young "Dreamer" immigrants, those who were brought into the country illegally as children, a chance for citizenship.
The reason moderates are optimistic about progressing negotiations, two sources close to the process said, is that the idea for the special visa came from conservative Freedom Caucus member Rep. Raul Labrador. He gave Congress six months to find a solution, but lawmakers have remained deadlocked.
He said the moderates appear to be willing to hold off "because they see the consensus of the conference". The president hasn't weighed in and Ryan has said he doesn't want to pass any bill that Trump won't sign.
"We have the right kind of conversations happening, and the next step is to start putting pen to paper so we can get legislation to the floor", Ryan told reporters after Thursday's meeting. Moderate Republicans, some of whom are facing strong Democratic challengers in the November election, are willing to compromise on nearly all other aspects of immigration in exchange for a special pathway for Dreamers.
Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee and has been involved in smaller negotiations leading up to Thursday's meeting, said Thursday's session wasn't meant to finalize a deal but to "get everything on the table".
Members left the room Thursday expressing optimism but seeing little evidence of an imminent breakthrough.
The proposal would create a new visa, moderate California Rep. Jeff Denham confirmed to reporters, and would offset the numbers of new legal residents by "combining" other visa categories - likely eliminating some and reallocating the visas to cover the new category.
But even within that "four pillars" framework, plenty remained unsettled.
There's uncertainty over what would happen after the end of the eight-year visa program, but Denham said participants have characterized the proposal as a bridge to the legal immigration system - which suggests a pathway to remaining in the US permanently. Conservatives, meanwhile, want border wall funding and limits to legal immigration. He said leaders would unveil "an outline of a potential bill", while conservative leader Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said Ryan would present "concepts".
Republicans made it into the top two spots in some of the most important contests for statewide office.
Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, was running a construction company in 1986 and said he was so angry at the time that he kicked a dent into the drawer of a filing cabinet. Meadows declined to comment on that claim. "Our new deadline is to not have a deadline", Ryan said cheerfully.
"Members were running a discharge petition because they were anxious we weren't going to take action", Ryan told reporters after the meeting.
A discharge petition is a legislative act of rebellion that can overrule party leaders by forcing House votes on a bill if 218 lawmakers sign the petition.
In exchange for providing possible citizenship for young "Dreamers", Trump has demanded full financing for his proposed $25-billion wall with Mexico and curbs in legal immigration.
Inside the closed-door meeting, several lawmakers said they felt the hard-liners lean into talks more than they had before. If enough signatures are collected Tuesday, the House would be on track to have roll call votes on various proposals on June 25. That is more than triple the number of arrests in May of a year ago and is the third month in a row in which arrests exceeded 50,000 - indicating that Trump's hard-line immigration policies have not deterred border crossers. But they opposed conservative efforts to slash legal immigration.
Proponents told us the change will bring more "moderate" voters into the mix and lead to a more "pragmatic, problem-solving" group of elected officials.
Just 21 percent of voters said they'd be more likely to back a candidate who promised to support Pelosi as House Speaker if Democrats win back the chamber, while almost half - 45 percent - said they would be less likely to vote for that candidate.
But even as they gathered in a Capitol basement meeting room, there were no indications that a deal mending the party's chasm over immigration was at hand and no definitive details of where middle ground might be.
"It was a reminder to me that I would commit a lot of the rest of my life to restoring respect for the rule of law".
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