Gardner, Coffman take first steps away from House GOP in key immigration vote

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE vote came late Friday night. House Republicans rallied behind a proposal to end a program put in place by President Obama in 2012 that has halted deportations and granted work permits to young undocumented immigrants.

It was the latest in a series of salvos launched over the past two years in the House targeting Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — opposition to which has become orthodoxy for Congressional Republicans. Past votes against the program, known as DACA, have reliably notched nearly unanimous opposition among caucus members and have energized conservative activist voters.

All of the Republican members of the Colorado delegation in the House have voted the party line on DACA in the past. But something changed on Friday.

Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman — Colorado House Republicans who have voted consistently against DACA but who are running this year in competitive elections — stepped away from their House colleagues to join with Democrats and a small cadre of 11 Republicans to vote against killing the program.   

Gardner is running for the U.S. Senate in his first state-wide campaign.

Coffman is running in a district redrawn in 2011 that is now evenly divided among Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters and that includes large immigrant populations.

Neither campaigns returned messages seeking comment this morning.

As the National Journal argued in a Saturday piece on Gardner’s vote, Republican politicians like Gardner and Coffman no longer enjoy the luxury provided by the deep-red districts so many House Republicans represent to ignore the changing demographic realities shaping national races, where Latino voters make up 12 percent of the electorate. The Journal described Colorado as a “tipping point” political state, one that reflects evolving national politics in miniature. The Centennial State, like the nation, now hosts an expanding 12 percent Latino voter population, which Gardner will have to work to win over. And Latinos now make up 20 percent of Coffman’s Sixth District constituency.

Democrats looked on Gardner and Coffman’s votes Friday with skepticism.  

“It’s a shame that it took a strong opponent and a tough election to get the congressman to reverse his votes for the moment and suspend his attack on DACA,” wrote Denise Baron, spokeswoman for Coffman’s opponent Andrew Romanoff, in a release sent after the vote.

Kristin Lynch, spokeswoman for U.S. Senator Mark Udall, who Gardner is running to unseat, called the congressman’s vote “a sudden and unexpected departure” from his record of hardline opposition to DACA. She tied it to Gardner’s headline-making reversal this spring of his longtime support for anti-abortion personhood measures in the state.

“Next to Personhood, add this to Cory Gardner’s list of things he’s suddenly trying to run away from,” she said in a release. “While this may seem like a sudden about-face, Coloradans know that Congressman Gardner is only trying to hide from his true agenda and that the only thing that has changed are his ambitions.”

Gardner and Coffman have opposed immigration reform and the stalled DREAM Act, a popular proposal that would grant citizenship to undocumented youth raised in the United States provided they attend two years of university and/or serve in the Armed Forces.  

Obama issued the order establishing DACA when it became clear the DREAM Act would not make it through the House. Since August 2012, more than 600,000 people have applied for DACA deferments and work permits. They each pay $465 to apply and their participation in the program must be renewed every two years.

Last summer, Coffman made headlines for touting his movement in favor of immigration reform, on the one hand, but then voting in favor of a proposal by anti-immigration warrior Iowa Republican Steve King to repeal DACA. Democrats cited his long record of anti-reform proposals and called him an opportunistic “hypocrite.”

Gardner has been feeling the heat on immigration reform for months.

At the beginning of June, activists staged a day-long sit-in at his office in Greeley demanding that Gardner state frankly whether or not he supports comprehensive immigration reform and whether he would press House leadership on the issue.

The protest was prompted in part by Gardner’s vote the week before in support of another King amendment, one that requested $5 million to investigate the release of criminals from immigrant detention. The vote on the amendment underlined the impression among reform activists that enforcement measures remain the the main kind of immigration policy House Republicans will rally behind.

Indeed, the Friday vote on Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn’s short, hastily rewritten House Bill 5272 was spurred by conservative or Tea Party members of the caucus intent to send an election-year message that they would stand firm against any immigration-reform policies supported by the President and Capitol Hill Democrats that doesn’t prioritize border control or that includes “amnesty” for the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country, including young people raised here, the so-called Dreamers.


[ Image: An ‘Out of the Shadows, onto the Streets’ rally in Chicago, March 2013, by Sarah-Ji. ]