Politics & Government

Big-money GOP groups want Republicans to work with Democrats on immigration

Immigration issues still starkly divide Republicans on Capitol Hill — but the powerful outside groups that fund GOP campaigns are united in a push to give permanent legal status to young undocumented immigrants.

A network of groups funded by the billionaire Koch brothers — which has in the past funded far-right candidates — and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are both behind a Republican plan to partner with Democrats to give DACA recipients a path to permanent residency.

Even though that proposal has not been publicly embraced by GOP leaders on Capitol Hill, a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is actively defending the plan's Republican leaders back home in their districts.

The GOP groups' DACA pressure comes as immigration hardliners on Capitol Hill are begging party leaders not to partner with the left on immigration — a move they say could devastate the GOP base ahead of the 2018 midterms.

A phone script from an Americans for Prosperity call center in Texas this month highlights the wedge that DACA has driven between the business community that often funds Republican campaigns, and the GOP voter base that fueled President Donald Trump’s election.

The script directs volunteers for the LIBRE Initiative, a Latino-focused group funded by the Kochs, to ask whether people on a call list “support efforts to find a permanent solution for Dreamers – children brought here through no fault of their own.”

If the listener responds positively, callers are directed to ask if them to record a message urging Ryan to “prioritize a deal on immigration that that provides certainty for 1.8 million Dreamers.”

House GOP leaders have so-far put off debating proposals to address immigration, which pit some of the most vulnerable members of their caucus against the party faithful ahead of the 2018 midterms.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein bashed President Donald Trump for reversing his "commitment" to work with Democrats on legislation to protect young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.

A group of Republicans facing tough re-election races in 2018 has been plotting with Democrats to go around their own leadership and force a vote on this issue this year anyway.

They're pushing a plan to vote on multiple immigration proposals, including one crafted by conservatives, but could use Democratic help to advance a proposal with a permanent DACA solution and some increased border security.

Conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill are scrambling to stop that from happening.

They’re considering withholding support from a sweeping farm bill later this week to force a vote on their own immigration plan, which would make cuts to legal immigration and offer temporary renewable work permits to DACA recipients.

Appearing on Fox News’s The Ingraham Angle Wednesday, that bill’s author, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said his party had a responsibility to address immigration, but should do so with their own votes.

“We have control of the House, we have control of the Senate, we have the White House… why would we turn that control back over to the Democrats?” asked Goodlatte.

Yet that’s exactly what big-money groups that aid Republican campaigns are proposing.

Since Trump announced plans last fall to end the DACA program, the Koch groups have taken an aggressive stance to protect the program’s recipients, marking the network’s biggest foray into immigration issues.

They plan to spend roughly $400 million on politics and policy in the 2018 election cycle, and this month launched a seven-figure campaign pressuring both parties to unite on a solution for DACA recipients.

The Texas Association of Business and the U.S. Chamber are also pushing the current effort to work with Democrats.

They want to maintain current immigration levels to provide businesses with a skilled workforce, and have not embraced Goodlatte’s plan, which doesn't include a permanent DACA solution.

“This is a workforce that has received, relative to the world, some of the best education known to mankind,” Jeff Moseley, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board this month. “It makes no sense to us to take this highly trained group of individuals and turn them over to other countries to join their workforces.”

Andrea Drusch: 202-383-6056, @AndreaDrusch