Republican Congressman Mike Coffman grabbed headlines back in September for promising to force Republican leaders in the U.S. House to vote on his bill, called the BRIDGE Act, allowing Dreamers to remain in the U.S. for two more years, while Congress works out a permanent solution.
But just three days later, Coffman announced he’d met with House Speaker Paul Ryan and decided to hold off on his “discharge petition,” which is the mechanism to force such a vote, because the Speaker wanted time to introduce an unspecified long-term Dreamer-protection bill.
The media coverage of Coffman’s backtrack was dimmer, but luckily The Hill reported that Coffman had given House leadership a deadline for taking action on a Dreamer bill. If Ryan didn’t act, Coffman would, he told the Hill’s Cristina Marcos Sept. 7:
Coffman warned he would renew his push if lawmakers are unsuccessful in reaching a deal once the six-month phaseout period ends in March 2018.
“I said that I would pull back on that to see how [Ryan] would do. What he didn’t want is two efforts simultaneously that are going at the same time, his effort to try to get our bill to the floor, and my effort to try to push a discharge petition,” Coffman said in an interview just off the House floor.
“But if he couldn’t bring something to the floor, then I would push the discharge petition.”
So Coffman promised to act on behalf of Dreamers before the DACA program expires.
That will occur March 5, as explained Sept. 5 when Trump began an “orderly phase out” of the DACA program, which allowed the Dreamers, who were brought into the U.S. as children, to remain in the U.S. and work temporarily.
So where do things stand now? There are about three weeks to go until DACA expires, unless the courts delay expiration further. And no word from Coffman.
Ryan has said he’ll only act on a bill approved by Trump.
It will likely take Coffman serious time and cajoling if he’s going to make a legitimate effort to gather the 218 signatures required from House Members on his discharge petition to force a Dreamer vote. That’s because members of the majority party are typically reluctant to sign such petitions, because they are seen as an embarrassing attack on leadership.
Usually, the Speaker of the House decides which legislation is put up for a vote. Discharge petitions circumvent this procedure, but they won’t succeed without support from both Democrats and Republicans.
As a result, discharge petitions rarely succeed and are seldom even tried, especially by a member of the majority party. Hence, the head-turning effect of Coffman’s promise last year to give it a shot.
While the clock is ticking on Coffman, the U.S. Senate is beginning to debate bills relating to DACA, but it will be a tough river to cross for senators to pass a bill, with a constellation of competing elements.
And most observers say passage of a DACA bill will be even tougher in the House. Back in 2013, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill by a 62-38 margin, but it died in the House, with Coffman opposing it.
So now, with an immigration battle looming in the House, the spotlight is back on Coffman. If the Senate manages to pass a bill, Coffman’s discharge petition may be the only path toward a House vote on any Dreamer legislation. Coffman said last year he’d sign a discharge petition for the Dream Act, a much more expansive bill than Coffman’s BRIDGE Act.
“I see the discharge petition as a way to bring legislation to the floor should Republican leadership fail to allow a floor vote on a bill to protect these young people,” said Coffman in a news release last year.
It’s fair to say Republican leadership is still failing. So what will Coffman do? And when? Time is running out.