Yoder speaks in favor of easing asylum rules for domestic violence victims
Laura Ingraham was furious with Kevin Yoder.
The Fox News Channel talk show host fired off a tweet to her 2.3 million followers, urging them to tell the Republican congressman from Kansas “to stop selling out the Trump agenda for his re-election in a close race.”
Ingraham wasn’t alone. Conservative commentators and anti-immigration groups have erupted in anger over Yoder’s support last week for a Democratic plan that would make it easier for migrants fleeing domestic abuse or gang violence to claim asylum in the United States.
That plan, authored by Rep. David Price, D-North Carolina, would forbid the use of federal money to enforce the Trump administration’s stricter rules for asylum seekers.
The rules became tougher in June when Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered immigration judges not to allow fear of domestic or gang violence as grounds for granting asylum.
Yoder was a vocal supporter of Price’s plan to relax the rules last week.
Now, under fire from the right, he’s backing away. He says there are “legitimate concerns” about the proposal and he’s working with Trump to fix it.
Yoder is gearing up for a tough re-election fight in a district Democrat Hillary Clinton won two years ago. To win in November, he needs to convince moderate Republicans and independents to vote for him. But he also needs a strong turnout from his conservative base.
Just days before endorsing Price’s asylum proposal, Yoder had won President Donald Trump’s full-throated endorsement on Twitter for securing $5 billion in funding for the president’s proposed border wall in the House’s Homeland Security spending bill. Trump called Yoder “strong” on border security. He invited Yoder to join him on Air Force One.
On July 24, Trump and Yoder flew together to Kansas City, Missouri.
The following day, Yoder did not seem conflicted about Price’s plan as he presided over a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee.
As chairman of the subcommittee that sets funding levels for the Department of Homeland Security, Yoder not only allowed a voice vote on the Price plan — meaning legislators didn’t have to vote on the record by name — he also spoke up in favor of the measure.
“As the son of a social worker, I have great compassion for those victims of domestic violence anywhere, especially as it concerns those nations that turn a blind eye to the crimes of domestic violence or refuse to protect those and in some cases force victims to be in these violent relationships,” Yoder said, shortly before the committee’s unanimous voice vote on the plan.
Reading from a prepared statement, Yoder said that he believes strongly in protecting women from domestic violence.
“I believe that should be a factor in an asylum claim and that (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) should at least be able to look at domestic violence issues or other circumstances on the asylum claim,” he said. “And while I understand there are some people in the committee who have sharply different opinions on this, for my part, I’ll be voting aye.”
Conservatives weren’t happy about other amendments Yoder supported that day. One aims to fix a green card backlog for high-skilled legal immigrants from India and China and another one would restart an Obama-era program favoring case management over detention for migrant families seeking asylum.
Over the next 48 hours, conservative media personalities and anti-immigration groups unleashed their fury on Yoder.
They accused him of betraying Trump’s agenda. His social media accounts filled up with angry Republicans calling him a traitor and a RINO — or Republican in name only — a derisive term for members of the GOP whose positions the party base deems too liberal.
On Ingraham’s Fox show, she aired a picture of Yoder and criticized him for bringing up his social worker mother.
“Your family history shouldn’t be allowed to thwart the president’s immigration agenda,” Ingraham said, addressing Yoder.
Dan Stein, president of Federation for American Immigration Reform, an anti-immigration group, issued a press release calling Yoder’s actions “a betrayal of the administration’s agenda” and said “the American people should be outraged.”
Former Missouri Republican Chairman Ed Martin accused Yoder of “serving Microsoft and Amazon who want cheaper labor ... instead of U.S. citizens.”
An article in the conservative publication Breitbart called the asylum amendment Yoder supported “a direct rebuke of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ efforts to strengthen the country’s lax asylum system.”
The article asserted, without evidence, that this would translate into “about 32 million Central Americans being given the right to immigrate.”
The Breitbart article quoted Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach saying he couldn’t understand why Republican lawmakers would support such a plan.
“This would be a colossal mistake for Republicans to support this,” said Kobach, who is vying for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in Yoder’s homes state of Kansas this year.
Daniel Horowitz, senior editor of Conservative Review, tweeted that Yoder “must be defeated at all costs.”
Yoder has no serious primary challenger. Six Democrats are competing in the August 7 primary for the nomination to oust him.
At 4:39 p.m. on Friday, Yoder put out a statement on Twitter.
He stressed his commitment to “stopping the illegal flow of human trafficking and drug trafficking into our country” and touted the $5 billion for Trump’s border wall that he’d included in the same spending bill as the controversial amendments.
“There have been concerns raised about amendments that were adopted into our bill regarding asylum,” Yoder said.
“These concerns are legitimate and I am committed to continuing to work with the president and the administration to fix this as our bill moves forward and ensure that any loopholes are closed and that we have strong and humane enforcement of all of our immigration laws,” he said.
Yoder’s office could not say on Monday what specific steps the congressman was considering to “fix” the bill.
“We have been in contact with the White House and have discussed some fixes but haven’t settled on what the best path forward is yet,” said Yoder’s spokesman, CJ Grover, in a statement.
“He wants a high bar to prove any asylum claims and opposes catch and release ... His position is we must secure the border and enforce the laws but do so humanely in keeping with our American values,” Grover said.
Price, the North Carolina Democrat who sponsored the asylum amendment didn’t know Yoder would support his proposal to ease asylum rules until the moment Yoder publicly endorsed it during the committee meeting on Wednesday.
The language Price offered has yet to become law. The bill needs to be considered by the House when it returns to work this fall.
There are ways lawmakers can strip language out of a bill that has passed out of committee, said Joshua Breisblatt, senior policy analyst for American Immigration Council, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Yoder “could work with the Rules Committee to take out an amendment that passed, or they could try and change it on the House floor,” Breisblatt said.
The White House and the Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment.
U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, the top Democrat on Yoder’s subcommittee, said she hasn’t spoken with him, “but if he’s backing away from the work of the Appropriations Committee, it’s extremely regrettable and disappointing.”