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Virginia Republicans Following Party Line In DACA Debate

Rog Cogswell / Creative Commons

Republicans in Washington are locked in a debate over what Congress should, or even can do, about immigration reform this election year.

And most Virginia Republicans are sticking to party leader’s script.

Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have been trying desperately to stave off an embarrassing rebellion that has moderate Republicans attempting to force a vote on a bill to protect so-called Dreamers – those children of immigrants who don’t have legal status here. The GOP leadership seems to have now tamped down that revolt in most battleground states by promising votes on two competing immigration bills.

But Virginia Republicans never joined the revolt. Northern Virginia Congresswoman Barbara Comstock says she doesn’t like the idea of a discharge petition that forces party leader’s hands. “I'm not getting on the discharge petition. I haven't done that because that hands over control to the Democrats, and I want a Republican bill that, I think it should be a consensus bill that can get passed and get through the Senate.”  

Many more conservative Republicans have demanded a vote on retiring Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte’s bill that deals with DACA kids, but is also in line with Trump’s call to be even tougher on enforcement at the border. Comstock wouldn’t say if she supports or opposes that bill, merely brushing it aside as not having enough votes to pass.  “Well, the bill as it is isn't what's going to be brought to the floor right now so I think people are still working… I think this is a process where we have to compromise and work together and I think we'll get there.” 

Other Republicans don’t like that Democrats want to give Dreamers a path to citizenship. Comstock says she doesn’t like the idea of having people cut in line either. "Well in my district I have a lot of people come from the Asian community, the Indian-American community, who come and play by the rules and I want to see something that makes it easier for those who are following the rules to get in too.  I think these are all parts of the discussions we need to have to get something that is a consensus bill. "

Virginia Beach-area Congressman Scott Taylor has three specific demands for any immigration bill. “Border security, disincentives for future illegal immigration as well as a DACA fix.”

While GOP leaders seem to be leaning towards a Republican only bill, Taylor says he thinks they should reach across the aisle. “I think whether you’re talking about security, whether you’re talking about a fix, there is a sweet spot to make it bipartisan. And it should be bipartisan.”

Central Virginia Republican Congressman Dave Brat and most tea party backed lawmakers are upset with moderates for forcing party leaders’ hands on immigration and DACA. Brat says many of those Republicans signing the discharge petition are retiring anyway. “It's pretty cynical because you've got half the folks that are leaving in that group and then you're passing primary dates and doing it, you know, without the consent of the voters and kind of doing an end run around voters.”

Meanwhile, many Democrats are wondering why they aren’t being given a seat at the table. Northern Virginia Congressman Don Beyer says this internal GOP debate over the Dreamers and immigration bolsters his party’s chances in November. “We just saw for the first time, America has more job openings than unemployed people. We need new Americans to help our economy grow. And these are kids who grew up here, speak American, you know, part of our culture. They’re as American as your kids or my kids.”

The House could vote on competing bills next week. But even if they can muster the votes, most political watchers think the Senate would reject either proposal, which means the issue isn’t going away. How big of a role the issue will play in November is still the big unknown.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.