Senators Spar over Immigration Amendments

by Andrew Stiles

Further votes on amendments to the Gang of Eight immigration bill may be unlikely, as lawmakers have been unable to reach an agreement on which amendments, and how many, to allow a vote on.

“We just haven’t been able to get an agreement on both sides,” Senator John Hoeven (R., N.D.) told reporters Wednesday outside the Senate chamber, moments after the “border surge” amendment he co-authored with Senator Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) was approved 69–29.

“We haven’t stopped trying, and we’ll continue until we run out of time, but that’s the problem we’re having,” Hoeven added. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has made clear that he intends to hold a vote on final passage before the July 4 recess next week.

Gang member John McCain (R., Ariz.) told reporters he has spent the last 48 hours trying to reach an agreement on amendments, and blamed the impasse on the bill’s opponents. “We had an agreement that at least 35 Republican amendments would be voted on, and that still wasn’t good enough for the opponents,” he said. “Of course, that’s their right to do, but it’s pure obstructionism.”

The bill’s opponents, of course, reject McCain’s accusation. “The Gang wants their amendments, but we want our amendments,” a conservative aide tells National Review Online. “They don’t get to pick which amendments get a vote. That’s not an open process.”

Opponents claim the Gang of Eight originally wanted to have roll call votes on a package of 10 amendments, along with simple voice votes on about 20 others. The amendments would have been handpicked by the Gang, and would have included some that were specifically chosen to win over wavering Republicans such as Rob Portman (Ohio) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), and may have included special carve-outs for certain states.

The Gang is anxious to boost GOP support for the bill and achieve its goal of getting 70 votes on final passage. At the moment, however, only 14 Republicans are likely to support the bill as written, which would mean a final tally of 68 yes votes.

Opponents of the bill say they gave McCain a list of about 35 amendments they wanted to vote on, which included Portman’s amendment to strengthen the bill’s E-Verify provisions, and amendments from Chambliss and more than a dozen other Republican Senators. “None of these amendments should be poison pills,” the conservative aide says. “And, besides, all we want is a vote.” McCain then took that list to Reid, who objected. Negotiations have stalled, but the bill’s critics insist they are not to blame.

“We’re not blocking any votes on amendments,” says an aide opposed to the bill. “We have not objected to anything. Harry Reid is the one preventing any votes from happening. He is the who is subverting the democratic process here.”

McCain and other proponents of the bill are reportedly lobbying Republican opponents of the bill to withdraw their proposals, in an effort to shorten the list of amendments. However, time is running short, and neither side appears likely to budge. On Wednesday afternoon, Senator Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) objected to Reid’s attempt to hold votes on a selection of amendments. Grassley accused Democrats of being afraid to take tough votes, and complained that only nine amendments have received roll-call votes. Portman asked on the floor why the Senate couldn’t stay in session a couple of days to vote on more amendments.

If both sides continue to object to each other’s offers on amendments, Reid may decide to simply pass the bill as is on Thursday or Friday and go home.

Such a scenario would benefit the Gang’s opponents for a number of reasons. It would not only reinforce the perception that the legislation did not undergo a thorough and transparent process, thus inviting comparisons to Obamacare, but it would also preclude more GOP Senators from supporting the final bill, and deny the Gang their coveted 70 votes.

Proponents have argued that passing an immigration-reform bill with a solid majority in the Senate would put considerable political pressure on House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) to follow suit. That scenario seems more and more laughable by the day.