Posted on July 14, 2021

GOP Donors Push Senators on Immigration

Olivia Beavers, Politico, July 12, 2021

PUTTING ON THE PRESSURE: A number of current and former GOP donors are taking aim at Republican senators, accusing them of picking partisan gamesmanship over good-faith efforts to work on immigration reform, Laura Barrón-López and I are told.

In particular, a group of Republicans who want to see progress on immigration reform negotiations are critical of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was originally in the 2013 gang of eight that sought to address the overloaded U.S. immigration system, and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who represents a border state. They want Graham and Cornyn to press Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to take up the Graham-cosponsored Dream Act, the Farm Workforce Act, and Cornyn’s own bill that he has cosponsored with Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) titled the “The Bipartisan Border Solutions Act.”

GOP figures speaking out include board members of the American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC), who have spoken to 41 Republican senators about the bills. Some who describe themselves as lifelong Republicans say they may start voting across party lines if they don’t see the party bend on immigration. Two Republicans who spoke to us threatened to withhold financial support: Cuban-American billionaire Mike Fernandez, a former Republican turned independent who’s previously donated millions to GOP candidates, and Bob Worsley, a former GOP State Senator in Arizona.

“The people who have been there on the issue for a long time, like Lindsey Graham, are nowhere to be found at the moment,” said John Rowe, Exelon Chairman emeritus and national GOP bundler. “He doesn’t particularly want to talk to me at the moment. And that of course is frustrating because I’ve supported him for a very long time.”

Rowe said if Graham and Cornyn would put their muscle behind the existing bills alongside Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.), he’s confident they’d have 15 Republican votes. “All I know is a whole lot of decent people are being held hostage to issues that don’t have anything to do with them,” Rowe said. A spokesperson for Graham pointed your Huddle host to a statement the senator made in June, in which he cited the situation at the border as the holdup on immigration reform. And Cornyn in a letter last week asked Durbin to mark up a targeted DACA bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It is not just donors. Some figures with a different form of influence say they are fed up.

William Diaz, a Venezuelan-American leader in Orlando who helped deliver Venezuelan support for Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) in 2018 against then-incumbent Bill Nelson, says he used to have meetings with Scott about immigration. Diaz, who is a registered Democrat, said he ultimately encouraged other Democratic Venezuelans to vote for Scott after multiple discussions about Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans.

But Diaz says if Scott doesn’t support key legislation he wants to see passed, he may encourage Venezeulan-Americans to support other candidates next cycle. Scott’s margin of victory was 10,033 votes, or 0.12 percent. Scott has vocally condemned the Venezuela authoritarian regime, even praising the Biden administration for granting TPS to Venezeuelans fleeing the Maduro regime. He is also calling on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Some donors are also encouraging Democrats to simply go it alone through reconciliation on immigration if Republicans can’t get on board. But this push is an uphill battle, at least right now. Republicans have been increasingly leaning further right on this issue, demanding big changes to border security, including building Trump’s border wall, before they come to the negotiating table.