Stopping amnesty is entirely within the power of senators who oppose it. Later today, the Senate will vote on whether to proceed on the bill. To revive the once-stalled bill will require 60 votes, which means that if the senators who vote no and the senators who don’t vote add up to 41, the bill is dead. The best vote count now has 33 no votes plus the non-vote of the ill Sen. Tim Johnson. Assuming this count is accurate, only seven more are needed to stop amnesty.
Those votes are available from a bipartisan group of senators who say they oppose the amnesty bill. They are Sens. Kit Bond, Sam Brownback, Richard Burr, Thad Cochran, Norm Coleman, John Ensign, and Jim Webb. If any of these senators votes to revive the bill, his professions of opposition to amnesty should no longer be taken seriously. He will have done his crucial bit, when the amnesty bill was most vulnerable, to help shepherd it to passage. We know how senators who claim to oppose amnesty will try to explain away a vote to revive the bill. They will rely on procedural obfuscation: They didn’t want to obstruct the process, they wanted to get a vote on an amendment, etc. But amnesty is staying in the bill — no amendment to strike the bill’s central features has any chance of passage — and it deserves to be obstructed.
Here’s a look at where these seven senators stand:
Kit Bond (R., Mo.): He has the very model of a contradictory stand on this bill. He is saying that he will vote for cloture — that is, for taking up the bill again — and then offer an amendment that would gut the Senate deal by stripping the “path to citizenship” from the bill. (Under his amendment, that is, illegal immigrants would be legalized but would be ineligible for green cards.) His amendment will go down to inevitable defeat, so the more reasonable way for him to express his opposition to the bill would be to vote against cloture. By the time his amendment fails, it may well be too late to stop the bill. The other senator from Missouri, the newly elected Democrat Claire McCaskill, has figured this out even if Bond has not. She is voting no on cloture. Missouri voters would do well to reflect on the fact that their junior Democratic senator has a more consistent and effective position against amnesty than their senior Republican one.
Sam Brownback (R., Kan.): He says he is against a pathway to citizenship and against amnesty. Brownback has shifted on the issue by taking a tougher position on amnesty than he did last year. Whatever political good he did for himself by that change would be wiped out by voting for cloture — and help pass exactly the provisions he now says he opposes.
Richard Burr (R., N.C.): He says he is opposed to amnesty but he wants the bill to come up for debate. Yet the debate is rigged: The supporters of the bill will knock down any meaningful changes to it and pass their core deal. Burr should take note of his senior colleague Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s position. Quite logically, she opposes amnesty and will therefore vote against cloture.
Thad Cochran (R., Miss.): He has said he’s listening to his constituents and wants to see how the debate plays out. But there is no chance that the bill will satisfy his stated goals of “secur[ing] the borders” and improving “enforcement of illegal entry.” From the outset he should — unlike his colleague Trent Lott — vote the will of his constituents, and against cloture.
Norm Coleman (R., Minn.): During the debate on the bill a few weeks ago, he offered an amendment to prevent the creation of so-called “sanctuary cities” that don’t enforce immigration laws. He is missing the point: Under this bill, the entire country will in effect become a sanctuary city. He can help stop it from happening by voting against cloture.
John Ensign (R., Nev.): He recently joined with staunch opponents of the bill, including Sens. Sessions, DeMint, and Vitter, in a letter to President Bush saying that border security is “the best way to restore trust with the American people and facilitate future improvements of our immigration policy.” That sentiment is inconsistent with doing anything to advance this amnesty-first bill. He has said calls and e-mails have been running “a hundred to one against” the bill. He must know as chairman of the senatorial campaign committee that his candidates will suffer from an ongoing debate and fight with their Republican base over this bill. The Nevada senator shouldn’t want to gamble that the legislation will be improved on the floor after he votes for cloture.
Jim Webb (D., Va.): He campaigned against amnesty last year, and he voted against cloture a few weeks ago. Other Democratic freshmen who ran against amnesty in 2006, such as McCaskill and Jon Tester of Montana, are expected to vote against cloture. Webb should too. It’s too soon for him to go native and engage in Washington games to pass legislation he says he opposes.
These are seven senators who can block amnesty. Will they do it? We’ll know soon enough.