Vulnerable Republican briefly supported conservative immigration bill, cutting against his moderate image

Rep. Mike Coffman, a vulnerable Republican in Colorado's Sixth Congressional District, briefly supported the conserva...

Posted: Jun 20, 2018 10:12 AM
Updated: Jun 20, 2018 10:12 AM

Rep. Mike Coffman, a vulnerable Republican in Colorado's Sixth Congressional District, briefly supported the conservative immigration proposal authored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, going against the moderate immigration profile the Republican is looking to cut ahead of the 2018 midterms.

Coffman's brief backing of the bill is perplexing given the legislation doesn't meet the criteria he has laid out for an immigration deal. And it could be politically taxing, as Democrats are already signaling they will use his short-lived support to try to unseat Coffman in the fall.

Coffman, who is running for re-election in a suburban Denver district that Hillary Clinton won by nearly 9% over Donald Trump in 2016, has tried to appeal to moderate voters in the region by positioning himself as in favor of more middle-of-the-road proposals on immigration, distancing himself from the more conservative wings of his party.

A spokesman for Coffman said his initial support of the Goodlatte bill, which until now had not been reported, was his attempt to explore all options for an immigration fix. The congressman withdrew his support, the spokesman added, once he realized the bill would not offer a permanent solution for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers.

"We were exploring all legislative avenues and that came aboard," said Daniel Bucheli, a Coffman spokesman. "Then, looking at the details closer, it was clear there would be no permanent protection for DREAMers and at that point he took his name off it."

But the Goodlatte bill never offered DREAMers permanent protection, raising questions as to why it took Coffman nine days to realize the bill did not meet one of his primary immigration objectives. The bill, which was widely known at the time as the conservative option to ongoing debates over immigration, was also rolled out on January 10, 2018, months before Coffman decided to attach his name to the proposal.

As part of that rollout, a one-page summary from House Judiciary provided on the bill made clear it would not offer a pathway to citizenship.

"There is no special path to a green card," reads the summary.

Coffman's spokesman chalked up his boss's fleeting support for the bill to fast moving negotiations on Capitol Hill.

"Things were moving rather fast here," said Bucheli. "We were looking at what we would do to protect DREAMers. But looking at this closely, he did not identify a permanent legislative solution for the DREAMERs under the Goodlatte bill, and that's why he came off."

Coffman backed the bill quietly on March 13, 2018, according to the Congressional Record, but nine days later -- on March 22 -- he took to the House floor and asked for his name to be removed from the plan.

"Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that my name be removed as a cosponsor of H.R. 4760," he said. His request was granted.

On Monday, Coffman broke with some in his party -- including Trump -- and said he spoke with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, to stop the controversial family separations at the border.

"Tearing children from the arms of parents and then isolating them alone is antithetical to the America I grew up in, and to the America that I have many times fought to defend," he said in a statement. "This isn't who we are. My colleagues should mark their words and this moment - history won't remember well those who support the continuation of this policy."

Asked earlier this year if he was in favor of just protecting DREAMers from deportation and not offering them a pathway to citizenship, Coffman said that was not enough for him.

"I think that's a sticking point," he told NPR. "I believe [in] an earned path to citizenship."

Jason Crow, the Democratic candidate backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the district, said Monday that Coffman's passing support for the Goodlatte bill shows he is a conservative Republican trying to cast himself as a moderate.

"It's alarming to see how far out of touch a congressman can become with his district, but this shouldn't surprise anybody here at home," Crow said. "This latest quiet deception is more of the same from a career politician whose promise to stand up to Donald Trump ended with a 95% pro-Trump voting record. Once again, Coffman is putting political posturing above what's best for his constituents."

The issue is also likely to dog Coffman in November, with outside groups like Organizing for Action, a political organization with ties to former President Barack Obama, telling CNN they plan to use Coffman's immigration record in their work to turn out Democrats in the district.

"If you don't like where Mike Coffman stands on immigration," said Jesse Lehrich, spokesman for the Obama-linked group, "just wait a few days."

Correction: This story has been updated to accurately reflect the margin by which Hillary Clinton won Colorado's Sixth Congressional District.

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