Gang of Eight Looks to Buy Votes with Amendments

by Andrew Stiles

Republican sources are telling National Review Online that Gang of Eight members were less-than-thrilled by the outcome of yesterday’s vote to advance their immigration reform bill, and they are now looking for ways to win — or buy — more GOP votes. The bill is certain to pass, of course, but proponents are hoping for 70 votes, meaning they will need more than the 15 Republicans who voted for cloture on Monday. 

Opponents of the bill are concerned that, sometime within the next 24 to 48 hours, the Gang of Eight will come to an agreement with Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) to allow votes on a series of amendments that have been handpicked by the Gang, and are designed to placate wavering Republicans and win their votes for the final bill. It will not be an open process, as was originally promised, and could involve more giveaways like the “Casino Cash-out” and the “Crabhusker Kickback” – the functional equivalent of earmarks, which have been banned since 2011. ”It’s another backroom deal,” says one GOP aide. “This is how we do earmarks these days.”

Likely targets include Senator Rob Portman (Ohio), who voted against cloture yesterday but will likely support final passage if the Senate approves his amendment to strengthen the bill’s E-Verify provisions; Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, and Senators Brad Enzi (Wyo.), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.). The Gang will be also looking to keep the vote of Senator Roger Wicker (Miss.), a conservative who surprised many by supporting cloture.

The effort will likely be cast as an appeal to Republicans, who have expressed concern that so few amendments (nine) have been voted on thus far. By comparison, 46 amendments received votes during the 2007 immigration-reform debate. A group of 14 Republican senators sent a letter to Reid on Monday urging at least as many amendment votes on the current legislation, and criticizing the bill’s supporters for “collecting yes votes as the price of admission into that back negotiating room.” Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas) said Reid’s effort to control the amendment process resembled a “dictatorship.” If Reid does attempt to bring a Gang-approved amendment package to the floor, however, opponents will likely try block it using procedural tactics. They would insist that they get to choose some of the amendments to be voted on.

At the moment, there appear to be 69 votes for the bill (52 Democrats, 2 Democratic-leaning Independents, and 15 Republicans). Proponents will likely do whatever they can to run up the score with GOP votes. Senator John Hoeven (R., N.D.) told reporters yesterday that proponents think another four to five Republicans are “gettable.”

A vote on final passage is expected before the end of the week.


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