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On Immigration, John Cornyn Prepares to Pull the Rug Out from Democrats Once Again

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We are watching the age-old Cornyn Con unfold in real time

Washington, DC – Earlier this week, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) appeared with Democrats in Texas and Arizona to set up his favorite move – the Cornyn Con. 

What’s the Cornyn Con? The silver-tongued, silver-haired Senator from Texas pretends he wants a breakthrough on immigration reform on his way to scuttling immigration reform. He positions himself as a conservative who wants to make common cause with Democrats, and after igniting hope and attracting positive press, he pulls the rug out on Democrats so he can blame them for failure. 

As close observers of Senator Cornyn, we’ve been eyewitnesses to the Cornyn Con in 2006, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2017 and 2018. Now, he’s found new marks. The faces are different, the cynical game is the same.

This past week, Cornyn appeared alongside Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) in Arizona and then the two of them were joined in Texas by Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-CA) and Tony Gonzales (R-TX). They touted their bipartisan proposal to fast-track asylum hearings. As policy, their plan would undermine fairness in a process that yields life-and-death decisions (see a new Roll Call op-ed: Sinema-Cornyn border proposal would hurt refugees. Congress should reject it). But that’s not really what’s happening here. Cornyn is using the proposal to position himself, once again, as a fake bipartisan deal-maker on immigration. 

Despite his repeated statements that he supports a clean Dream Act and that he wants to get to yes on immigration reform, let’s review highlights of Cornyn’s fifteen year voting record on immigration: 

  • 2006: Cornyn voted against the McCain-Kennedy immigration reform bill that passed with broad bipartisan support; the bill included the Dream Act as part of the legalization component.
  • 2007: Cornyn voted against the comprehensive immigration reform bill that included Dream Act provisions even though it was drafted by his close partner on immigration at the time, Senator John Kyl (R-AZ). The bill he opposed was supported by President Bush. Just after helping to defeat the bill, Cornyn had the audacity to deliver a speech on the Senate floor about – that’s right – the need to pass immigration reform.
  • 2010: Cornyn voted against the Dream Act in the lame duck session when it fell short by 5 votes, arguing inaccurately that “this bill still allows illegal immigrants with criminal records to apply and receive benefits.”
  • 2013: Cornyn pretended he wanted to get to yes on the Gang of 8 bill that eventually passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis by 68-32. Deploying a cynical strategy of delay, delay, delay, he finally introduced an amendment to S. 744 that was viewed by the bill’s sponsors as cost-prohibitive, logistically improbable, and a “poison pill.” Cornyn ultimately voted ‘no’ on the Senate bipartisan bill. It included the Dream Act as a component of the bill’s legalization provisions.
  • In 2017 and 2018: In a fierce debate over DACA and Dreamers, following the decision by Trump in September 2017 to end the program in six months, Cornyn did his best to position himself as the lead negotiator so he could block a breakthrough for Dreamers. 
    • On Dec. 5, 2017, the Cornyn-Grassley bill was introduced – a poison pill bill that claimed it was trying to help Dreamers while actually pushing a number of anti-immigrant measures. In 2017. Senator Durbin (D-IL), the Senate champion of the Dreamers, sat down with Senators Cornyn and Grassley to see if they found a bipartisan agreement. Here’s what Durbin had to say afterward: “First they said, ‘We’re not going to give you the Dream Act, and here are five things we must have that go way beyond border security…So I..said, ‘Let’s be honest. Neither of you have ever voted for an immigration bill and probably never will. I’ve got to sit down and negotiate with people who might vote for this bill.’”
    • In February 2018, Cornyn endorsed Donald Trump’s extremist and anti-immigrant framework, which received the fewest number of votes among all the Senate bills voted upon.
    • The Rounds-King-Manchin bill that paired $25 billion in border security with the full Dream Act had the best chance of passing the Senate, despite misgivings from pro-immigrant activists and Democrats that the bill went too far on President Trump’s enforcement agenda. Cornyn still voted ‘no’.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice: 

Sen. Cornyn is all hat and no cattle. He has the Texas-sized gall to say he supports immigration reform and Dreamers when every time a bipartisan bill to legalize Dreamers has come to the Senate floor he has voted no.

This is what we call the ‘Cornyn Con’ – pretending to get to yes so he can get to no and blame the Democrats. If it were not for two-faced politicians like John Cornyn, millions of Dreamers and other immigrants would be citizens today.  

Democrats who think Cornyn is sincere should check the record. He doesn’t see you as a partner, he sees you as a mark. If all you want is press coverage that you care about bipartisanship, he’s your guy. If what you want is a breakthrough that could transform the lives of millions of people who are Americans in all but paperwork, he’s not.