DENVER – In a symbolic vote on immigration, Republican U.S. Sen.-elect Cory Gardner of Yuma on Thursday backed blocking the president from enacting an executive order sparing millions from deportation.
Gardner, who cast his vote as a member of the U.S. House, said he simply could not support President Barack Obama’s unilateral power move.
His vote comes after a tough election bid in which Gardner beat Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall by campaigning as a moderate and calling for comprehensive immigration reform.
“Today, the House voted on a bill to condemn the president’s circumvention of Congress,” Gardner said in a statement shortly after the vote.
Tea party star Rep. Ted Yoho, a Florida Republican, crafted the measure in response to Obama’s executive order that would spare an estimated 5 million immigrants in the country illegally from deportation. Obama said the administration’s focus would be on deporting “criminals, not families.”
Yoho’s measure would prohibit presidents from delaying deportations.
Gardner acknowledged that the vote Thursday achieves nothing in terms of immigration reform, but he said the measure is necessary to pave the way for Congress to act.
“Neither the president’s actions nor (Thursday’s) legislation will solve the real problem at hand: our broken immigration system,” Gardner said.
House Republicans have refused to advance a Senate immigration-reform bill that would create a path to citizenship in exchange for tougher border security. Many Republicans are adamant that border security must be in place before a path to citizenship is discussed.
“Without presenting an alternative plan, (Thursday’s) vote is not a solution. We owe it to generations past and generations to come to find a solution to our broken immigration system,” Gardner said.
But observers said Gardner could have taken a huge step forward by supporting the president’s order.
One Republican in the Colorado congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora, voted against Yoho’s measure. He was one of only seven House Republicans to vote against the measure. Coffman won his re-election bid after spending considerable time reaching out to Latino voters.
The pro-comprehensive immigration-reform group Partnership for a New American Economy on Thursday released a poll that found that the immigration issue partly dictates which way many Hispanic voters will cast their vote. It shows that Republicans continue to grapple with winning over Latino voters, but they could make progress if they support an immigration-reform measure.
Sixty-eight percent of Hispanic voters in Colorado would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who opposes a path to citizenship or legal status, compared to 11 percent who would be more likely to vote for such a candidate.
Also, 60 percent of Hispanic voters in Colorado are open to changing their minds on whom they will vote for in the 2016 election, according to the poll. Immigration appears to be a key decider of whether they will. Hispanic independent voters prefer the Democratic Party’s stance on immigration over the Republican one by a factor of 34 percent to 18 percent.
“This is one of the reasons that Latino communities were so strongly in favor of now-Sen. Gardner’s opponent, because time and time and time again, Sen.-elect Gardner refused to listen to our communities,” said Julie Gonzales, co-chairwoman of the Colorado Latino Forum. “We want solutions. ‘No’ is not the answer.”
But U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said border security must be a large part of the conversation. He voted to block Obama’s executive order.
“(Thursday’s) vote is the first of what will be a number of efforts over the coming months to stop his overreach,” Tipton said. “It’s my hope that we will advance a step-by-step immigration solution that begins with enhanced, verifiable border security and a strengthened guest-worker program.”