WASHINGTON — Sen. Cory Gardner discussed immigration for about 30 minutes here on Thursday without mentioning President Donald Trump’s controversial policies on the issue.
The Colorado Republican senator was honored along with Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin for their immigration work by the National Immigration Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.
The discussion comes at a pivotal time for U.S. immigration policy. The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments next week in a case over President Donald Trump’s decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
Gardner is typically seen as a moderate when it comes to immigration. He long has juggled the personal experiences of his rural northeastern Colorado hometown where immigrants play a vital role in the agricultural industry with what critics deride as political expediency.
He has both supported and voted against legislation that would help Dreamers — undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. Likewise he has both supported and dismissed the idea of a border wall and funding for it.
Gardner was among a small group of Republican senators who sought a bipartisan compromise last year to give Dreamers a path to citizenship, but that effort failed and there’s little indication that the chamber will pass legislation on the thorny political issue this Congress.
Immigration promises to be a top issue in the re-election bids of both Gardner and Trump in 2020. Gardner will be running on the same ticket as a president who lost Colorado in 2016, and whose net approval has dropped in the state by about 16 percentage points since he took office, according to Morning Consult. Gardner endorsed Trump for re-election earlier this year.
Gardner sat quietly on the stage next to Durbin Thursday as the Illinois Democrat assailed Trump’s immigration policies.
Asked whether there’s anything that can be done to make 2020 a rebirth of bipartisanship on immigration, Durbin said flatly, “No.”
Durbin went on: “I believe this president has poisoned the well. I believe that when he calculates what it takes to appeal to his base, there is no room for accommodation on immigration.” Durbin also decried the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that separated immigrant children from their families before the policy was officially halted last year. Durbin called the approach “abhorrent and disgusting” and said, “We don’t treat people like that in America.”
Gardner didn’t mention Trump, however, saying he remains broadly optimistic about bipartisan compromise, despite the fact that little substantive legislation is expected to be taken up in the Senate during this Congress. “I never give up hope. We can’t give up hope,” he told the audience.
He declined to comment after the event when asked by The Colorado Independent whether he’d support the “American Dream and Promise Act,” a bill that passed the U.S. House in June. The legislation would offer protections for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and others who are currently without permanent legal status.
He directed the question to his spokeswoman, who asked the Independent to follow up via email. She did not respond to an email requesting comment.
According to the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, the DREAM and Promise Act of 2019 would give 39,700 Coloradans a path to citizenship.
News that he had been honored as a leader on immigration reform was met with swift criticism from the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.
“Senator Gardner has not only run away from conversations with Colorado immigration advocates but has kicked our community leaders out of public meetings. These are not the action of an immigrant rights champion,” CIRC’s Federal Campaigns Director Victor Galvan said in a statement.
Earlier this year, immigrant rights activists crashed a Gardner forum on veterans’ affairs, asking for his support. The Denver Post reported that he told those in attendance that immigration reform “is incredibly important.”
Congress, he said, should return to past legislation “that had 54 votes a year ago and try to again get a vote on it and get that passed. That included the Dream Act, that included border security.”
Colorado’s congressional delegation split along partisan lines on the June immigration vote. All four Democrats supported the bill; all three Republicans voted against it.
In 2014, Senator-elect Gardner voted in the U.S. House to block President Barack Obama’s executive order to expand the DACA program. Gardner said at the time that he voted to condemn Obama for issuing the policy without getting support from the legislative branch.
“Recently, the President issued an executive order that circumvented Congress and asserted power he previously said he doesn’t have,” Gardner said at the time,” KDVR reported.
In early 2017, Gardner said that he opposed Trump’s proposed border wall.
“As far as the wall goes, I believe we have to have border security, but I do think billions of dollars on a wall is not the right way to proceed,” Gardner told a constituent, according to audio obtained by Politico.
But he voted this year to uphold Trump’s national emergency declaration to secure funds for a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
After Gardner sided with Trump on the wall, The Denver Post declared that its 2014 endorsement of Gardner was “a mistake” and that his border wall vote “was the last straw.”
Gardner was scheduled to attend a GOP fundraiser this week titled “Save the Senate” at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, the Intercept reported. Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other senators facing re-election in 2020 were also listed as guests on the invitation.
Tina Griego contributed to this report