WASHINGTON — Virtually all Democrats are poised to join a group of Republicans calling for House votes this election year on immigration, an effort that seems unlikely to succeed but would cast a campaign-season spotlight on an issue Democrats think will help their Election Day prospects.
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., has gathered nearly 50 GOP co-sponsors on a procedural measure that would permit votes on four immigration bills. Those bills would include a conservative package that would limit legal immigration, a Democratic plan helping young "Dreamer" immigrants win citizenship and a bipartisan compromise.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has said he doesn't want the House to vote on immigration bills that President Donald Trump won't sign. Trump has backed the conservatives' proposal, but it lacks the votes needed to clear the House.
Virtually every Democrat will join Denham, aides said Monday, enough for a House majority. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the effort.
Even with most House members aboard, though, GOP leaders would not be required to bring the measure to a vote. But it would give Republicans like Denham, an immigration moderate with many Hispanic residents in his district, a chance to show he's tried pushing the issue. It would also give Democrats an opportunity to accuse Republican leaders of scuttling the effort.
Democrats — and perhaps even a Republican — seem likely to go even further and collect signatures on a discharge petition, a rarely used procedure that would force immigration votes if a majority of lawmakers signed it. GOP leaders would be expected to try thwarting that effort by persuading Republicans who backed Denham's measure to not sign the petition.
"We owe it to these young people to keep trying," Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said Monday. Aguilar and Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, are co-sponsors of a compromise immigration bill, and Aguilar was among those gathering signatures of Democrats willing to support Denham's effort.
Denham spokeswoman Jessica McFaul said he would not file a petition forcing votes.
Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong blamed Democrats for Congress' immigration inaction and said he'd "continue to work" for a bill that protects so-called Dreamers — immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children — and strengthens border security.
The Senate killed several bills in February aimed at protecting from deportation hundreds of thousands of Dreamers. Trump last year ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program established by President Barack Obama, which has been temporarily shielding those immigrants.
Democrats are hoping to capture House control this November. The effort to help Dreamers polls strongly, and Democrats think the issue could help them in districts with large numbers of immigrants and with moderate suburban voters.