WASHINGTON – Pushing immigration legislation through the Senate Judiciary Committee may wind up being the easiest job reform proponents achieve during what promises to be a long, drawn-out process.
It remains unclear if Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, has the votes necessary to meet the arduous 60-vote threshold required in the upper chamber to adopt the committee-approved measure. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is one of a handful of lawmakers looking to attach a “poison pill” amendment to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013.
Meanwhile the Republican-led House is piecing together its own legislation, which is expected to place greater emphasis on border security, setting the stage for a difficult conference committee.
“The bill includes very little, if anything, to improve the executive branch’s ability to enforce the law,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee and an opponent of the legislation. “No one disputes that this bill is legalization first, enforcement later. And, that’s unacceptable. And, I think if you read the polls, yes, immigration reform is very much desired by the American people, and it ought to be because the system is broken, but that’s pretty much based on us securing the borders.”
Grassley said he tried to strengthen the bill through the committee amendment process but consistently saw his efforts thwarted.
“Well, my message to the Senate and the House is that absent significant changes on the Senate floor, the House should take up their own process, develop their own product with input from their constituents, and work toward a conference on this bill,” Grassley said. “That will ensure that the bill benefits from the various checks and balances we have within the legislative process to reach the proper outcome.”
Proponents acknowledge they are hoping to attract 70 votes for the legislation, which could be cited as a bipartisan success. Reid said he intends to bring the legislation to the floor in June, shortly after lawmakers return to Washington from the Memorial Day work period.
Reid, appearing on the Nevada public affairs program To the Point this week, said he believes he’ll be able to corral the necessary votes.
“I think we have 60 votes,” Reid said. “Remember, we start out at 55 Democrats. I think the most I’ll lose is two or three. Let’s say I wind up with 52 Democrats. I only need eight Republicans, and I already have four, so that should be pretty easy.”
The four Republicans are the members of the “Gang of Eight” who joined four Democrats to piece together the legislation and stick with it through the committee process. The four are Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both of Arizona.
In addition, proponents are making overtures to Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and John Cornyn (R-Texas). But Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), another member of the Gang of Eight, expressed doubts that the 60 votes are in reach.
“We don’t currently have 60 votes identified in the Senate,” Menendez said in an interview with Univision. “We need to add more votes on the floor. That means that the community in your state, in every state, should be contacting your state’s two U.S. senators saying that they want comprehensive immigration reform, that they are going to judge their political future based on this vote.”