Harry Reid’s Ahistorical Confidence

by Fred Bauer

Senator Harry Reid has blithely predicted that 60 votes would be an easy achievement for the Senate’s Gang of Eight Bill. As Andrew noted below, in an interview with a Nevada television program, the Senate majority leader sketched out the following scenario: “I think we have 60 votes. 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.” How easy would it really be to achieve 60 votes?

In the June 28, 2007, vote on immigration reform, the last major push for a “comprehensive” immigration bill, 16 Democrats (not two or three) voted against cloture on this measure, which failed 46 to 53.

Here are the Democrats who voted against the measure in 2007 and are still in the Senate:

Baucus (Mont.)
Brown (Ohio)
Harkin (Iowa)
Landrieu (La.)
McCaskill (Mo.)
Pryor (Ark.)
Rockefeller (W.V.)
anders (I., Vt.)
Stabenow (Mich.)
ester (Mont.)

Some of these Democrats — such as Senator Baucus and Senator Harkin — have announced that they will retire after 2014, so they don’t plan on being held accountable to voters again. But other members in this group – perhaps most notably Senator Landrieu and Senator Pryor – are likely to be in tight reelection campaigns in Republican-leaning states in 2014.

Some of the six Democrats who voted against the “comprehensive” bill of 2007 but are no longer in the Senate were replaced by Democrats who could be skeptical about the Gang of Eight’s plans. Senator Joe Manchin (W.V.), who replaced Robert Byrd, is not exactly a guaranteed vote for “comprehensive immigration reform.”

Some of these Democrats may still have doubts about components of the bill. In 2007, Democrats worried about the effects of guest-worker programs on the unemployed. Perhaps some of them will stay true to this principle. Senator Bernie Sanders, even as recently as last Friday, declared, “what I do not support is, under the guise of immigrant reform, a process pushed by large corporations which results in more unemployment and lower wages for American workers.” If this bill’s guest-worker programs would lower wages and harm employment prospects for many Americans, how could he support this bill in good conscience?

It’s very possible that three or fewer Democrats will switch their votes, but history suggests that many more could. And every Democratic defection from the Gang of Eight’s agenda means that one more Republican will have to sign on. In that June 2007 vote, only twelve Republicans voted for the immigration bill. Four of those Republicans either are now members of the Gang of Eight or were replaced by members. Two of those Republicans were replaced by Democrats. None of the six remaining Republicans are still in the Senate, and many of those six were replaced by significantly more conservative Republicans (for example, Pat Toomey replaced Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter).

Over the past few weeks, conservative and moderate opposition to the Gang of Eight bill has increasingly solidified. Even figures on the right who might have been amenable to an immigration deal in the past (such as Bill Kristol) have turned against the current bill. There’s a reason why pro-Gang rhetoric has become even more strident in attacking skeptics.

Despite Senator Reid’s bravado, there is a real chance that the Gang of Eight could have a hard time getting to 60 votes. Senator Robert Mendendez has said that the Gang currently lacks 60 votes, and, according to Jennifer Rubin, top Senate Republicans also believe this.

Proponents of the Gang of Eight likely hope to demoralize skeptics of the bill by making the bill’s passage seem like a sure thing. The Gang of Eight may have the White House, many in the media, and a number of corporate interests on its side, but so did the failed immigration bill of 2007. Politicians may try to dodge accountability by arguing that some immigration “deal” is fated to pass, but this bill still has a number of hurdles to clear before it makes it through the Senate – let alone the House.

— Fred Bauer is a writer from New England. He blogs at A Certain Enthusiasm, and his work has been featured in numerous publications.

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