Jeff Denham looked entirely serious Wednesday in announcing he has the votes to force the House of Representatives to help protect the Dreamers.
That’s good. But not yet good enough.
Denham made the announcement on the Capitol steps, an impressive venue. Optics are important because Denham is in trouble here in his 10th Congressional District, and a big reason for that trouble is that he has done so little to stand in the way of the Trump administration’s cruel use of American young people as political pawns.
Instead, Denham has marched nearly in lockstep support of the president’s agenda, voting for Trump’s preferred legislation 97.2 percent of the time. On some issues, that doesn’t matter. But when it comes to deportation of the Dreamers – young people brought to America as children, who have played by the rules, stayed out of trouble and in many cases already are paying taxes – it matters a lot.
President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to protect some 700,000 Dreamers from deportation and give them time to start down the path to citizenship. Because Trump despises everything to do with Obama, he revoked the DACA protections, putting those 700,000 Americans on a path toward deportation.
An estimated 6,000 to 8,000 DACA-protected teens and young adults live in Denham’s district. Each one has friends and family who are increasingly furious and distraught over their plight. So are many who have gone to school with them, who work with them and have watched them grow up. For many of us, this isn’t some vague political dispute, it’s a real threat to people we care about.
Denham knows this. He also knows doing nothing to help the Dreamers could cost him November’s election. So he went to the Capitol steps with Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, another Republican representing a lot of Dreamers, to explain that they have gathered 240 votes for their “Securing America’s Future Act.”
That many votes can be used to force a “Queen of the Hill” maneuver, which sends competing bills – there are four – to the House floor, despite any objections from Republican leadership. The bill that gets the most votes, assuming that’s also a majority, goes to the Senate.
It’s similar to the “discharge petition” for a no-strings-attached DACA bill we have been asking Rep. Denham to sign for months. If a majority of representatives sign such a petition, any bill can bypass House committees and go directly to the floor for an up-or-down vote. So far, only a few Republicans have signed on – all of them over the objections of House Speaker Paul Ryan. Last week, Ryan also rejected the idea of a “Queen of the Hill” process to save Dreamers.
That’s why we applaud Denham for assembling 240 House allies. We’re glad he’s standing up to lame-duck Ryan et al. But we’re concerned when he says he’s not ready to use those votes to force the issue.
Instead, Denham says he wants to give other Republicans more time.
Every day at least 120 Dreamers run out of time, losing their protection from deportation. Only a court order – that President Trump appealed and lost – keeps them safe at home. If the order is overturned, all of them could be rounded up the next day.
If Denham is serious about protecting the thousands of Dreamers living in his district, he must use those votes. Otherwise, his speech on the Capitol steps looks like little more than a gathering of fig leaves.