With Washington immersed in and distracted by a trio of scandals, the giant immigration reform bill is headed to the Senate floor after five days of amendments in the Judiciary Committee.
The vote was 13-5, with Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Orrin Hatch of Utah joining the 10 Democrats on the committee to pass the bill.
GOP Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Lee of Utah and Jeff Sessions of Alabama voted against it.
The original 844-page bill from the Group of Eight emerges from committee molded by a bevy of amendments, including 48 from Republicans that were adopted.
Gang of Eight member Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), though, said he was “pleased to see that the original foundation of our legislation was not weakened.”
“Our carefully crafted compromise withstood a tough series of poison pill amendments, and its passage out of the Judiciary Committee brings us a step closer to final passage by the senate,” said Menendez, who does not sit on the committee. “Members from the entire political spectrum continue to support the bipartisan proposal put forth; this is the right approach at the right time. I will continue to do everything I can to push this bill across the finish line, and I look forward to a thoughtful and fair debate in the senate floor.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), also a member of the original negotiating group but not on the committee that marked up his bill, said he thought the committee “made real improvements to the bill.”
“The amended bill that heads to the Senate floor would make significant progress to secure our borders, make E-Verify mandatory for the first time in American history, effectively crack down on immigrants who overstay visas, and modernize the legal immigration system to meet America’s 21st century economic needs for both highly skilled talent and guest workers to fill labor shortages,” Rubio said.
However, he added, the reform bill won’t be successful “unless we can earn the confidence of the American people that we are solving our immigration problems once and for all.”
“As evidenced by the statements of many of my colleagues who voted against the bill in committee today, the vast majority of Americans across the political spectrum are prepared to give millions of people living here today illegally the opportunity to earn legal status and, potentially, permanent residence and citizenship – but only if they pay fines, pass background checks, don’t receive federal benefits and wait in line behind everybody who followed the rules,” Rubio said. “And only if we secure the border and take steps that ensure that we will never again have another wave of illegal immigration.”
Cornyn said he felt the markup made some improvements, but ultimately the legislation fell short of what was needed to get his vote.
“I was disappointed the Committee rejected an amendment I offered that would’ve required real border security results. Another promise from Washington, D.C., to secure the border won’t cut it,” he said. “I am deeply concerned about this and other flaws in the current proposal. I want the system to work for everyone, and I am hopeful that common sense will eventually lead to common ground.”
Sessions, whose opposition to the legislation was especially vocal during the markup, highlighted a letter just released by a coalition of conservative activists urging lawmakers to vote against the bill and saying “no matter how well-intentioned, the Schumer-Rubio bill suffers from fundamental design flaws that make it unsalvageable.”
“Many of us support various parts of the legislation, but the overall package is so unsatisfactory that the Senate would do better to start over from scratch,” says the letter, which also urges senators to vote against cloture and keep the bill from coming up for a vote. Signatories include PJ Media’s Allen West, Victor Davis Hanson and Andrew McCarthy.
“The coalition letter is an important and decisive moment in this debate, reflecting deep, broad and principled conservative opposition,” Sessions said. “They note, correctly, that the Gang of Eight legislation is like Obamacare—a large, unwieldy bill filled with broken promises and special interest giveaways. The letter makes crucial points about how the Gang of Eight legislation will pull down Americans’ wages, destroy American jobs and erode the constitutional rule of law as immigration officers have repeatedly warned. While the number of voices supporting the Gang of Eight legislation shrinks, the number of Americans speaking out against this proposal continues to grow.”
At the end of the markup today, Sessions declared that “this legislation fails to live up to every major promise of its sponsors.”
“Ironically, the only promise the sponsors of this legislation have kept is their promise to block any attempts to improve the proposal,” he said.
“As a result, we are left with legislation that is fundamentally unchanged and fatally flawed. It will not become law.”
Sessions also noted “amendments offered by Republicans to put enforcement first were all rejected.”
“This bill is bad for workers, bad for taxpayers and—as immigration officers have pleaded for us to hear—a threat to public safety and the rule of law. It serves the special interests at the expense of the national interest,” he said. “Therefore, I must oppose.”
GOP amendments that were adopted included two from Flake, a Group of Eight member, that would require an additional background check for registered provisional immigrants at the time of status renewal and requiring that any provisional immigrant who fraudulently tries to get federal benefits has his or her status revoked.
“These are commonsense amendments that address specific concerns. They will, respectively, strengthen our security and ensure that federal benefits aren’t extended to those who have fraudulently tried to claim them,” Flake said. “These amendments represent how the full and open process of regular order continues to better this bill.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) said he hopes “our history, our values, and our decency can inspire us finally to take action.” Leahy withdrew his amendment today that would have blended the same-sex marriage debate with immigration by mandating any marriage legal on foreign soil be recognized by U.S. immigration authorities.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated to reporters today that he’s “hopeful that we’ll be able to get a bill that we can pass here in the Senate.”
“With regard to getting started on the bill, it’s my intention if there is a motion to proceed required, to vote for the motion to proceed so we can get on the bill, and see if it is — if we’re able to pass a bill that actually moves the ball in the right direction,” McConnell said.
President Obama, who today met with people who received deferred action status under his DREAM Act-style directive last year, praised the committee’s action and took credit for the Group of Eight’s bill in one fell swoop.
“A strong bipartisan vote is largely consistent with the principles of commonsense reform I have proposed and meets the challenge of fixing our broken immigration system,” he said in a statement. “The process for considering this legislation has been open and inclusive with multiple hearings, and more than a hundred amendments were considered and adopted, in many cases with bipartisan support.”
Obama singled out for special recognition Graham, Flake, and Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
“None of the Committee members got everything they wanted, and neither did I , but in the end, we all owe it to the American people to get the best possible result over the finish line,” the president said. “I encourage the full Senate to bring this bipartisan bill to the floor at the at the earliest possible opportunity and remain hopeful that the amendment process will lead to further improvements.”
Grassley, ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, said he “voted for amnesty for 3 million people in 1986, and it didn’t solve the problem.”
“At the end of the day, the majority argued against securing the border for another decade. The triggers in the bill that kick off legalization are inefficient, ineffective, and unrealistic. All while amendments that managed to make the bill bigger and costlier were accepted,” he said.
Grassley said the last hope he now has is for floor amendments that would strengthen the bill.
“Now the real work begins to see if we can reform this bill before we send it to the House of Representatives,” the senator said. “We need a bill that truly balances our national security with our economic security.”
The Senate is trying to plow through the farm bill before breaking for the Memorial Day recess. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters today that the immigration bill is the next priority.