Senate Bill Faces Uncertain Future

Posted June 5, 2007 at 6:45pm

Dismissing GOP demands for more time to debate immigration reform as “stall tactics,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday he will pull the bill from the floor if Republicans refuse to wrap up work on the bill in the next several days.

Reid, who said he would file for cloture on the bill late Tuesday, said that if Republicans block the motion as expected, he’ll drop the issue for the foreseeable future. “Well, of course, if the cloture motion fails, I’m not going to proceed on it further at this time. We may try to do it some other time, but not at this time,” Reid said.

Although GOP aides said they hoped Reid would buckle under pressure, a Democratic leadership aide warned that the Majority Leader feels he is in the right and that Republicans have more to risk from the bill collapsing at this point than Democrats. “If [Republicans] want to kill this bill, then fine,” the aide said.

Reid’s comments came on the heels of renewed demands by GOP leaders in the Senate for an extension of the debate well into next week.

“Let me just tell you, that would be a bad idea to file cloture,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Since Monday, McConnell and other Republicans have sought to use the number of GOP-authored amendments to last year’s bill as the measuring stick for what would constitute a fair floor debate. “We are a long way from having as many Republican amendments considered as we did last year. It’s clear to me an overwhelming majority of our caucus would insist that we have all those amendments considered,” McConnell said.

Similarly, Senate Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.) — who is the chief GOP backer of the legislation in the Senate — argued that more time is needed to complete the bill and that cutting off debate would be a mistake. “Ten years from now no one will know whether this bill took 14 days or 17 days or 10 days to finish,” Kyl said, adding that it would be a “big mistake by the Majority Leader” to force a cloture vote.

“I think it is the unanimous feeling that the only way this bill gets credibility is to let us work our will this week,” Sen. Larry Craig (Idaho) said of his fellow GOP Senators.

McConnell said a few weeks ago that he believed the bill could be completed in two weeks, but Craig said that changed when Democrats began resisting votes on a number of Republican amendments.

“It appears to me there’s some amendments out there that [Reid] doesn’t want his members to vote on,” Craig said.

Many Republicans and Democrats are looking to attend the funeral of the late Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), who died Monday night after a seven-month battle with leukemia. Republican Senators suggested Reid offer more time on immigration with that in mind, while Reid suggested he would accommodate Senators by bringing them back after the services to work through the bill.

But Reid appeared unmoved by the GOP’s demands and pushed back at requests from Republicans to hold off on trying to end debate on the bill this week. Reid noted that he already extended debate an additional week to accommodate negotiators of the delicately crafted package, and adding more time to the clock would only cramp a tight Senate calendar and do nothing to win over conservative opponents to the bill.

“There is not enough you can do for the people who don’t like this bill,” Reid insisted. “People are looking for excuses on the Republican side to kill this bill.”

Democrats also dismissed Republican claims that they should be allowed as many amendments this year as last. “I mean, what’s that even about?” one Democratic leadership aide said, arguing it is little more than an arbitrary number.

Reid added that with barely eight weeks of Senate business remaining before the August break and a spate of legislative must-dos in the pipeline, he simply can’t afford to stall any longer. If Republicans refuse to support Democrats’ efforts to move toward final passage this week, Reid said he’d be forced to pull the bill from the floor and move onto other pressing legislation such as energy reform and appropriations bills.

Asked whether it is now or never for immigration reform, Reid said: “I think you’ve answered your own question. I don’t know how to work in immigration for another two weeks later on. But never say never. Anything is possible.”

With Reid holding firm, Republicans appeared equally as unwilling to give in, saying they need more time for their Conference to consider dozens of outstanding amendments to the complex deal.

The Majority Leader on Tuesday afternoon offered an agreement to limit debate to 20 total amendments, a proposal that McConnell quickly rejected as an effort to “stuff” Republicans and limit their ability to debate amendments. “The best way to process this bill is not [for] the majority to try to ‘stuff,’ if you will, the minority because that will not happen, I assure you,” McConnell said on the floor. “But, rather, to go through the process in an orderly way and quit this rhetorical back and forth that continues to waste time that could be used offering, debating and voting on the maximum number of amendments, which would allow us to get to the point where we can get cloture on the bill and move to final passage.”

Without an opportunity to consider all Republican Senators’ proposals, GOP leaders predicted the Conference would stand together and oppose Reid’s move to close out debate on the bill.

With the showdown firmly in place, it remained unclear whether the political minefields could be navigated. Even those GOP Senators who were part of the original negotiation said they weren’t willing to move toward final passage until their colleagues were afforded their amendments. And many Senators acknowledged that an already delicate deal faced a tough road ahead.

“I think it’s every bit as fragile if not more fragile,” than it was before Senators adjourned for the Memorial Day recess, said Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.), one of the chief GOP architects of the agreement.

Meanwhile, House Republican leaders bristled Tuesday when asked to respond to President Bush’s comments last week that opponents of the immigration bill he supports “don’t want to do what’s right for America.”

“I thought that [his comments] were unhelpful and they were uncalled for,” Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told reporters Tuesday. Blunt is more in line with conservatives who oppose a path to citizenship for the illegal immigrants living in the United States. Blunt said his position was bolstered by constituent response during the Memorial Day recess. “We so far in my office in Southwest Missouri have received no calls supporting the bill,” Blunt said.

“Reasonable people can disagree on the specifics of this bill without questioning the motives behind their concerns,” added House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.), who is more in line with Bush’s immigration position. Putnam said the response in his district was “not much different” than Blunt received. Putnam’s district is home to many legal and illegal immigrants, and he identified the top industries as construction, agriculture and tourism. “House Members, I think, are appropriately waiting to see exactly what form the final Senate bill takes but I think share the concern that it needs to see significant changes before they would be able to support it.”

Blunt has been less receptive to Bush’s comprehensive approach for a bill that addresses three main issues: border security, economic continuity and how to deal with the illegal immigrants already in the country.

“We’re about to see whether that view is right or not,” Blunt said. “I don’t fault the president for wanting to solve these three problems. I do hope that we have a debate that is a legitimate debate that doesn’t needlessly characterize people’s motives on the other side.”

Emily Pierce and Susan Davis contributed to this report.