In a jungle of snowboards, boots, fur hats and backpacks Friday, Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner shook hands with vendors and military guests at the Outdoor Retailer show in Denver.
A tense immigration negotiation in Washington also had their interest, including a deal from President Donald Trump on Thursday night: a path to citizenship for young immigrants brought to the U.S, as children in exchange for cutting legal family-based migration and a $25 billion trust fund to build a border wall.
Bennet, a Democrat, and Gardner, a Republican, have been major players on the issue, and neither saw the president’s proposal as a final offer. They co-sponsored a new Dream Act last fall to try to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects 1.8 million young immigrants, including more than 17,000 in Colorado.
Without a deal, the so-called Dreamers who signed up face deportation.
Gardner and Bennet are part of the Gang of Six trying to work out a bipartisan deal. The stakes are high and the differences are wide.
“They come with this last-minute proposal that I don’t think is going anywhere,” Bennet said of the president’s offer. “I’ve been pleased to work with Cory Gardner as the Gang of Six negotiating a bipartisan solution to this thing.”
Democrats have tried to tie DACA protections to the federal budget, and President Trump is facing pressure from his base of supporters, after he made a tough immigration policy and a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico key to his election.
During the campaign, Trump said Mexico would pay for the wall, and the president had said they would eventually pay for it indirectly.
Border security isn’t the biggest stumbling block for him, Bennet said, but he doesn’t think it’s a good idea.
“It’s very, very hard to spend $25 billion at once well,” he said. “I am prepared to do substantial border security.”
Bennet said there are more efficient ways to do border security, however, such as a combination of fencing with technology, patrol officers and border-control cooperation with Mexico.
In 2013, Bennet helped write the Gang of Eight immigration reform bill that had $40 billion for border security. The bill passed the Senate then died on the calendar in the Republican-led House.
“I don’t have an allergy at all to border security,” he said. “In fact, I think we should (secure) our borders. I think we should do it smartly. I think we should do it efficiently, and I’m certainly willing to do it in the context of figuring out how to give the Dreamers protection and a pathway to citizenship, which was stripped from them by this president in September.”
Gardner said a lot of negotiations still have to take place on immigration to get bipartisan support (including 60 votes in the Senate), and to send Trump something he will sign.
“I think there are a lot of details that have to be worked out on this,” he said. “Last night, we heard the president say he supports the work we’ve been doing for Dreamers. Last night, he came very close to that, but there are still a lot of details – we still have to figure out exactly what is the proposal we put forth.
“We’ll know more Monday when there’s more coming forth. But the bottom line is this: There’s a lot of time we have to spend negotiating to find an agreement that cannot just pass the Senate. The goal isn’t just to pass the Senate. The goal is to make sure it can pass the Senate and the House and be signed by the president. That’s what we have to do to solve this. We don’t solve the DACA challenge, we don’t do anything for the Dreamers if it just passes the Senate and doesn’t go anywhere.”
Gardner said the president was willing to embrace some of the ideas the negotiators have offered, “and we’ve got more work to make sure the rest of it happens.”
Gardner said he wouldn’t support shutting down the government again because he didn’t support it the first time last weekend.