We’ve been very excited about the work done over at Denver7’s Politifact Colorado project, working with the Pulitzer Prize-winning national Politifact to provide some desperately-needed critical thinking to the wild claims tossed back and forth by our local crop of prevaricating politicians. It’s yet more evidence of our bellwether swing-state status to see high-profile outfits like Politifact shining a light on Colorado politics.
With that said, it was inevitable that veteran reporter Alan Gathright at Politifact Colorado would write something we need to take issue with at some point. That happened last week with the publication of their latest fact check, “Is Rep. Mike Coffman ‘with Trump’? Coffman says not yet.” This fact check addresses the question of Rep. Mike Coffman’s support for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, both formally and essentially by supporting fundamentally similar positions on issues like immigration reform.
Within this broad question lies some stuff we need to unpack.
Coffman certainly is hedging on his campaign’s previous statement that he would support the GOP nominee, who is now almost certainly Trump.
But do the two candidates line up issue-wise?
The Colorado’s Voice news release pointed to Coffman’s position on immigration legislation. “Colorado already knows Coffman supports the Trump agenda on immigration. He voted … multiple times to deport DREAMers by ending the DACA program. He opposes DAPA, the policy that offers a modest but critical step forward for the parents of U.S. citizens.”
…Here, too, Coffman’s position isn’t cut and dried.
As Gathright explains, Coffman voted against the 2010 DREAM Act, famously declaring “The Dream Act will be a nightmare for the American people.” When Coffman originally ran for Congress, Colorado’s Sixth Congressional District was composed of arguably the most far-right electorate in the state of Colorado, and had repeatedly elected Tom Tancredo to represent them despite his status as a national icon of the nativist anti-immigrant neo-Confederate (you name it, literally) movement.
And then something happened in 2011. We’ve talked about it in this space over and over. And frankly, the whole question of whether Coffman can be accurately said to be “not with Trump,” or anything other than the far-right successor to Tancredo’s extremism, hinges on whether you believe what happened after 2011 was legitimate.
But Coffman’s immigration positions softened in 2011, when his district was redrawn and its population became 20 percent Hispanic. He began taking Spanish lessons to better communicate with his constituents, and in January 2013, he introduced the Military Enlistment Opportunity Act, which sought to provide immigrant children an opportunity to serve in the U.S. military and gain a path to citizenship…
“There’s a narrative out there about Republicans being not just anti-illegal immigrant, but anti-immigrant,” Coffman told the Wall Street Journal in January. “It was very important to me to break the narrative.”
There is no question that redistricting in 2011, which reshaped Coffman’s political universe from Tancredo’s old stomping ground to the enormous cultural and economic diversity of Aurora, presented Coffman with the greatest crisis of his long political career. But it’s important to remember that Coffman did not at first realize how this new electorate would respond to the kind of rhetoric that came so easily before. In 2012, the same year Coffman was caught on camera claiming President Barack Obama “is not an American,” Coffman very nearly lost his seat to an underfunded Democratic opponent.
Since that time, it’s true that Coffman has made many superficial gestures to his newly diverse constituency, including taking some lessons in Spanish so as to debate opponents in the language. But his votes and statements on immigration reform have been far from consistent. His support for allowing DREAMer students to join the military is offset by other votes against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as a whole. Immigration reform advocates are looking for votes, not accountability, so any time they get the smallest concession from a Republican, they are of course obliged to publicly rejoice.
Bottom line: notwithstanding the backpedaled statement from Coffman’s spokesperson, Politifact’s contention that it’s wrong to say Coffman is “with Trump” on the issues rests more or less entirely on the contention that “the congressman’s views have moderated.” But Coffman’s detractors say the evidence for that is inconsistent at best, and could be reasonably assessed as a deceptive campaign to feign support for reform without offending the Republican base. And even when Coffman does make a token vote in favor of sensible immigration policy, the Republican leadership in the House he helps keep in power ensures that nothing remotely close to what the immigration reform movement wants will ever happen.
Respectfully submitted as grist for the fact-checking mill.