Politics & Government

NC congressman says act on border security before Dreamers

U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, left, talks with Observer reporter Jim Morrill on Tuesday.
U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, left, talks with Observer reporter Jim Morrill on Tuesday. mwalsh@charlotteobserver.com

Republican U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry said Tuesday that Congress should strengthen America’s southern border – including building a wall – before taking action on the so-called Dreamers.

The congressman also said he could support a new Senate health care plan proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

On immigration, Democratic congressional leaders said they’d agreed to a deal with President Donald Trump last week that would extend an Obama administration program for the children of undocumented immigrants.

The DACA program, for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, allows nearly 800,000 people brought here as children to stay. Trump has said he’ll end the program next spring unless Congress acts to extend it.

“This question about DACA has really sot of jumped ahead of how we should orderly talk about immigration,” McHenry said during a Facebook Live interview with the Observer.

“I for one believe that before we have any conversation about immigration we have to begin with border security, not just a physical perimeter but the laws surrounding how you come to this country. … Without that credibility you can’t have that conversation.”

McHenry, the House chief deputy whip, said there’s no appetite among Republicans at this point for comprehensive immigration reform.

“The larger package you get the worse it gets when it comes to immigration,” he said. “A step-by-step approach is the only thing that has credibility in my view with the American people and certainly the only thing that has credibility with my constituents in western North Carolina.”

McHenry also said he supports the health care bill sponsored by GOP Sens. Graham and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

The bill would eliminate federal premium subsidies under the Affordable Care Act as well as federal money for Medicaid expansion, now used in 31 states use to provide coverage for low-income residents.

The legislation would replace all that with block grants to states.

The closely divided Senate would have to vote on the bill this month to pass it with 50 votes (Vice President Mike Pence would break a tie) before procedures kick in that would require 60 votes to pass it.

“It’s a great concept,” McHenry said. “I would rather have complete control of the social safety net given to the states.…

“I’m hopeful that the Senate can pass this bill and keep the conversation alive.”

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill