Colorado's Gardner, Coffman change course from pre-2014 with support of DACA legislation

Gardner supports Dream Act for first time ever

DENVER – U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner signed on Tuesday for the first time to cosponsor the Dream Act, which would effectively implement DACA through legislation, on the same day that his fellow Republican member of Congress, Mike Coffman, tried to force the House to vote on a DACA extension.

After President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday morning that DACA would be rescinded, Trump and many Republicans in Congress, including those from Colorado, called for the legislative body to craft new legislation for Dreamers in the next six months.

Most Republicans have lambasted DACA for being an executive order issued by President Barack Obama, though his attempts to get it passed as legislation were halted by congressional Republicans.

So the moves by both Colorado Republicans—Coffman and Gardner—stand in direct contrast to where they’ve stood on immigration policy in the not-so-distant past.

In 2013, both Coffman and Gardner, who was then a member of the House of Representatives, voted in favor of an amendment from Rep. Steve King of Iowa to the Homeland Security appropriations bill that prohibited DACA from being implemented.

The House did not consider the so-called “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill passed by the Senate that year, which contained DACA protections as well. Bennet was one of eight senators--four Democrats and four Republicans--who helped craft the bill.

And in 2010, Coffman joined Rep. Doug Lamborn as the two Colorado Republicans who voted against the Dream Act of 2010, which was cosponsored by Bennet, when the House passed the measure on to the Senate. It eventually died there at the hands of a Republican filibuster, despite pleas from Obama to pass the measure as a piece of legislation.

Gardner’s Tuesday endorsement marks the first time he’s supported any version of the Dream Act, which was first introduced in 2001 and has been re-introduced several times since 2009.

The latest version is sponsored by Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and would allow Dreamers to get permanent residency if they were brought to the U.S. before age 18, graduate from high school or earn a GED, pursue higher education, work lawfully for at least three years or serve in the military, pass background checks and show proficiency in English.

“Children who came to this country without documentation, through no fault of their own, must have the opportunity to remain here lawfully,” Gardner said Tuesday. “I’m proud to join with Senator Bennet and cosponsor the Dream Act to provide certainty to the thousands of law-abiding Coloradan Dreamers and demonstrate bipartisan leadership on this important issue. I have long called for an overhaul of our country’s immigration system and believe this is an important step. I will continue to work with Senator Bennet and our colleagues in the Senate to move this bill forward into law.”

Bennet similarly called for Congress to move quickly to pass the Dream Act of 2017.

“While comprehensive immigration reform should remain a long-term solution, we also need a more immediate fix to protect Dreamers,” he said. “I have long supported legislation that makes clear what we already know: supporting Dreamers boosts our economy, strengthens our national security, and aligns with our values. Congress must move quickly to pass this legislation.”

Coffman’s discharge petition a change from 2013 and earlier

Rep. Coffman on Tuesday filed a discharge petition in the U.S. House of Representatives to try and force a vote on his Bridge Act, which would extend DACA protections for eligible undocumented immigrants for three years.

The discharge petition is a rarely-used maneuver that will try and force the bill, which was introduced in January and hasn’t received a committee assignment, to the House floor for a vote.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has yet to move on Coffman’s bill despite it having an identical counterpart in the Senate, with support from Sens. Graham and Dick Durbin, D-IL—hence the discharge petition. Graham is also the lead sponsor of the Dream Act of 2017.

“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,” Coffman said.

He has also cosponsored the House version of the Dream Act, and is cosponsoring another immigration measure, the Recognizing America's Children Act.

But as noted, Coffman hasn’t always been a champion of immigrants’ rights, and he and other Republicans—including some from Colorado—have blocked legislation while also blaming Obama for not making DACA a law passed by Congress.

Reps. Tipton and Lamborn joined Coffman and Gardner in voting in favor of Rep. King’s 2013 amendment to block DACA, and both urged Congressional action on Tuesday after Trump’s decision.

And Coffman’s 2018 challenger in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, Democrat Jason Crow, called Coffman’s support for DACA recipients a flip-flop, and threw his support behind the Dream Act that many in Congress have come out in favor of Tuesday.

“Congressman Mike Coffman literally called the Dream Act ‘a nightmare’ as he voted against it in Congress,” Crow said. “Coffman wants Coloradans to believe he’s presenting an alternative to President Trump on DACA, but we will not be fooled. I urge Congress to pass the bipartisan Dream Act to permanently protect these young immigrants and when I get to Washington, I will fight every day for Dreamers, no exception.”

Coffman noted in a press release that discharge petitions are typically used by the minority party and not against a Congressman’s own party’s leadership.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and a handful of other Republican attorneys general had threatened to sue the government over DACA if it was not rescinded by Tuesday—arguing that since Obama implemented the policy as an executive order that wasn’t passed by Congress, it was unconstitutional.

Paxton was also responsible for putting a stop to the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which was similar to DACA, before it was ever implemented for the same reasons.

Coffman’s Bridge Act would give Dreamers three more years of protections while Congress develops a new plan, but President Trump has hinted that he wouldn’t sign the bill. The Dream Act of 2017 would essentially implement Obama’s executive order into legislation for the president to sign before March 2018.

See more reactions from Colorado’s members of Congress and elected officials to the Trump administration rescinding of DACA here. Read how Colorado Dreamers reacted to the news here.

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