Thom Tillis, moderate? On one issue, at least

The Observer editorial board

Sen. Thom Tillis, with Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., left, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, talk about the Succeed Act last month.
Sen. Thom Tillis, with Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., left, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, talk about the Succeed Act last month. AP

Remember when lawmakers in different parties worked together to tackle big issues? Seems like it must have happened at some point, but in today’s polarized political environment, we’re having a hard time remembering exactly when that was.

But now comes one such potential moment, and one of the key players is North Carolina’s own Thom Tillis, who has introduced a Senate bill to protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who could lose legal protections as soon as next year. The Succeed Act, sponsored by Tillis and two other Republicans, would create a pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers who were brought here as children by their undocumented.

It’s not a perfect bill. It covers fewer Dreamers than a similar bill introduced by Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Dick Durbin, and it forbids Dreamers from sponsoring family members to the United States, as current law allows. Tillis has indicated that those conservative provisions, along with border security measures in the bill, might be necessary to get many Republicans on board.

He’s probably right, and it’s likely that Senate Republicans and Democrats will work to blend the competing DACA bills into one that can get both Republican and Democratic votes. That’s something our elected officials should do more often.

This time, there’s a deadline pushing them. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last month that DACA was being rescinded, and his boss, Donald Trump, has scuttled a subsequent deal he made with Democrats by introducing new, hardline demands. Given the president’s unpredictability, Congress would best be served not waiting for his direction on the issue.

For Tillis, at least, that comes with some risk. Immigration is among the hottest of hot-button topics, and hard-liners are rooted in their disdain of anything that resembles amnesty. The Succeed Act, with its path to citizenship, is seen by some as caving in on a zero-tolerance issue.

That’s not a mainstream posture, however. Americans are largely moderate about how to move forward on undocumented immigrants, and a vast majority believe that DACA recipients with clean records should be allowed to remain in the United States. By pushing the Succeed Act, Tillis is not only doing the right thing for Dreamers, but the politically smart thing, as well. He should be applauded.

We wish he would take the same approach with other issues. On gun control, Americans overwhelmingly favor measures such as improved background checks that could limit guns getting into the wrong hands. On health care, both North Carolinians and Americans have spoken clearly about protecting the benefits that the Affordable Care Act offers.

No, we don’t expect the senator to become a progressive. But Tillis campaigned as something closer to moderate when voters sent him to Washington in 2014, and North Carolina remains a purplish state – at least in statewide races. Perhaps Tillis is ready to start representing more of those constituents as his next election approaches.