McConnell: ‘Major Changes’ Needed on Immigration Bill

by Jonathan Strong

In a speech on the Senate floor this morning, minority leader Mitch McConnell issued a fairly critical assessment of the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill and said there will need to be “major changes to this bill if it’s going to become law.”

Those changes “include, but are not limited to, the areas of border security, government benefits, and taxes,” McConnell said. He went on:

I’m going to need more than an assurance from Secretary Napolitano, for instance, that the border is secure to feel comfortable about the situation on the border. Too often recently, we have been reminded that as government grows it becomes less responsible to the American people, and fails to perform basic functions either through incompetence or willful disregard of the wishes of Congress. Our continued failure to secure major portions of the border not only makes true immigration reform far more difficult; it presents an urgent threat to national security.

Some have also criticized this bill for its cost to taxpayers. It’s a fair critique. Those who were here illegally shouldn’t have their unlawful status rewarded with benefits and tax credits. So this bill has some serious flaws. And we need to be serious about fixing them. The goal here should be to make the status quo better, not worse. And that’s what the next few weeks are about: they’re about giving the entire Senate, and indeed, the entire country, an opportunity to weigh in on this debate, to make their voices heard, and try to improve our immigration policy. And that means an open amendment process.

McConnell’s remarks were more critical than those he made on May 21, when he first announced he would not vote to block debate over the bill and praised the Gang of Eight’s efforts.

But his speech today was also punctuated with reiterations about the need to reform the immigration system, sounding somewhat similar to the sentiments animating Senator Marco Rubio and some other Republicans who have helped move forward a bill they concede is flawed. ”We may not succeed this time,” he said. “But attempting to solve tough problems in a serious and deliberate manner is precisely what the Senate, at its best, should do. And it’s what we’re going to try to do in this debate.”

“Let me be clear: doing nothing about a problem we all acknowledge isn’t a solution. It’s an avoidance strategy. And the longer we wait to have this debate, as difficult as it is, the harder it’ll be to solve the problem,” McConnell said.

At 2:15 p.m. today, the Senate will be voting on cloture for the motion to proceed, the first major vote during the immigration floor debate. Some of the strongest opponents of the legislation are planning on voting “no,” which is a vote to block the debate from starting. But with McConnell’s, and Senator John Cornyn’s, support on the cloture vote, it is certain to be invoked, allowing the debate to proceed. A relative victory for the opponents would be something over 15–20 “no” votes.

Editor’s Note: This post has been amended since its initial posting.