The Gang of Eight’s critics have been predicting it for weeks: Negotiations would break down over disagreements on border security. Marco Rubio might threaten to walk. Immigration reform would hang in the balance. Then, suddenly, a group of senators would emerge from a back room with a deal that “fixes” the problem and saves the day. Reluctant Republicans would have political cover to vote yes; the bill would sail to passage.
And that’s exactly what is happening. (At this point, the bill’s passage is a mere formality.)
An amendment crafted by Senators Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) and John Hoeven (R., N.D.), under the close supervision of Senator Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and the White House, is being touted as the final compromise that will help Gang of Eight members achieve their goal of 70 votes for immigration reform.
On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) filed cloture on the Corker-Hoeven amendment, setting up a series of votes next week, including a vote on final passage of the modified bill. Lawmakers will have roughly 72 hours to consider the text of the amendment, which includes changes to all aspects of the more than 1,000-page bill, before voting on it. Reid now has the ability to block any changes to the bill, which he promised to “finish” before the July 4 recess.,
Speaking from the Senate floor on Friday, Schumer praised the amendment’s authors for their “courageous” actions and for “doing the right thing for your country.” The bill’s proponents have “new wind in our sails” as they work to secure a “large bipartisan vote” that could pressure the House into action, he said.
At this point, the Gang of Eight has all the momentum on its side. The Corker-Hoeven amendment has given GOP senators enough border-security talking points to justify a vote for the bill, if they are so inclined. “A lot of Republicans clearly want to vote for something,” a senior GOP aide tells National Review Online. Red-state Democrats such as Joe Manchin (W. Va.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mark Begich (Alaska), and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) have signed on as co-sponsors. Conservative-host Bill O’Reilly has endorsed the bill. It is going to pass the Senate.
Here’s how it happened. Republicans wanted to make citizenship for illegal immigrants contingent on the government achieving a 90 percent apprehension rate for illegal crossings along the southern border. Democrats refused. “Dems were never ever going to allow anything that allows a verification process that they can’t control or just ignore,” says a GOP aide. So negotiators came to a logical compromise: Spend $30 billion. Call it a “border surge.”
On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the bill would reduce the federal deficit by about $200 billion over the next decade. So, just days after the Gang of Eight blasted an amendment from Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas), which called for an additional 5,000 border-patrol agents, as too expensive, negotiators decided to spend some of those projected savings.
The new amendment calls for doubling the number of border-patrol agents from 20,000 to 40,000, completing 700 miles of border fencing, and buying a bunch of hi-tech surveillance equipment such as drones and infrared sensors. Gang member Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said the amendment “practically militarizes the border,” and is the toughest possible solution “short of shooting everybody that comes across.” Schumer said it would “create a virtual human fence.”
But does it even make sense from a policy perspective? “I think it’s overkill,” said Senator Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), another member of the Gang of Eight. Opponents of the bill may be inclined to agree.