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Why no Ga. Republicans are embracing House’s backdoor immigration fight


House Republicans are currently in the throes of a messy intraparty debate over immigration that threatens to spill onto the floor ahead of the midterm elections. But don’t expect any of Georgia’s 10 GOP lawmakers to back a push from their more moderate colleagues to force votes on legislation providing a path to citizenship to so-called Dreamers. 

Gerrymandering, President Donald Trump’s popularity and still-fresh memories of GOP figures like Saxby Chambliss getting slammed for compromising with Democrats are among the reasons why local congressmen will likely stay far away from the so-called discharge petition advancing on Capitol Hill. 

None of Georgia’s GOP lawmakers have signed onto petition, which is being backed by a united Democratic caucus and roughly two-dozen centrist Republicans. If it secures more than 218 supporters – it is currently three votes shy – it would trigger a series of immigration votes on the House floor over the objections of GOP leaders.

Georgia Republicans on Wednesday all voiced objections to the discharge petition, even though many said they sought to provide legal status to Dreamers, or young people brought to the country illegally as children. 

The discharge petition “effectively gives (House Democratic leader Nancy) Pelosi control of the situation, and that’s not the right way to go about things,” said Tifton Republican Austin Scott. 

House Republicans disagree about what exactly immigration legislation should do. Nearly all want to beef up security on the Southern border, but approaches differ from there, especially as it relates to recalibrating legal immigration limits or offering citizenship or temporary legal status to Dreamers.

Six Georgia Republicans – including metro Atlanta Reps. Karen Handel, Drew Ferguson and Barry Loudermilk – have signed on as co-sponsors to a conservative proposal authored by Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte that’s not dissimilar from the legislation pushed unsuccessfully by Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Trump earlier this year. 

“First and foremost, we’ve got to secure the border,” said Monroe Republican Jody Hice, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which backs the Goodlatte proposal. “No special pathway to citizenship I think is also very important. We already have a pathway to citizenship. To create new pathways I don’t think is going to fly.” 

Republican leaders have worked feverishly in recent weeks to find a middle ground between supporters of the discharge proposal – many of whom are retiring or in competitive races this year – and backers of the Goodlatte proposal. They are holding a special Capitol Hill meeting on Thursday so lawmakers can air their concerns and forge a compromise.  

But even if they can find a proposal that secures the support of 218 House Republicans, such an approach is unlikely to pass the more moderate Senate. The upper chamber was unable to come to a consensus earlier this year after Trump moved to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which provided legal status to Dreamers. 

Gainesville Republican Doug Collins, a member of his party’s leadership team, said he backs many of the Goodlatte proposal’s core tenets but acknowledged the bill is unlikely to secure enough GOP votes to pass the House. 

“A more narrow approach at this point is probably the better outlet,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “Focusing on solving the DACA issue and tying that to (border) security I think personally is the best path forward.”

Immigration has become a litmus test in the Georgia Republican Party over the last decade as the party has grown to dominate statewide politics. Trump is a wildly popular figure in Georgia, especially among the party’s base, and immigration has proven to be one of the most salient issues from his campaign. Additionally, most of the state’s congressional districts are drawn to favor one party, which makes most incumbents particularly vulnerable to primary challengers. 

“In most cases (Georgia Republicans) are probably not going to want to risk going too far over to the other side on an issue like DACA, at least not right now,” said Kerwin Swint, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University. 

Loudermilk, a second-term congressman from Cassville, said his constituents’ views on immigration are loud and clear. 

“Back home, no one’s talking about DACA,” he said. “No one’s talking about anything other than border security.” 

Read more: 

Georgia’s Isakson, Perdue take own approaches to immigration debate

How Perdue, Isakson voted on Senate’s immigration bills


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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.