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Immigration Fight Faces Amendment Gantlet

Senators have demanded an open process on the pending immigration bill from day one, and they’re getting it, with the next hurdle coming as soon as next week as the bill heads to the floor.

Though no final decisions have been made by Democratic leaders on how to proceed, sources expect an open amendment process. The substantive conversation on floor strategy is expected to begin Monday evening, at the Democrats’ first leadership meeting in the Capitol after the Memorial Day recess. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he would not support a filibuster blocking the bill from being brought to the floor.

An open debate process — pushed especially by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and other GOP members of the bipartisan “gang of eight” negotiators — has been successful so far. The Senate Judiciary Committee considered more than 200 amendments before approving the amended text 13-5.

But such an approach doesn’t come without risk, despite recent comments from Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that getting to 60 on the bill in the Senate should be “pretty easy.” The amendment process tripped up immigration the last time a comprehensive bill made it to the Senate floor in 2007, and opponents are hoping to use the floor fight to whip up another backlash against legalizing 11 million immigrants and giving them a path to citizenship.

The more amendments leaders allow, the more politically toxic votes could be held for either side. But shutting off debate too soon would open up Reid to charges that he is short-circuiting the process.

Republicans are largely the ones to watch, as the issue has fractured their party repeatedly. Democrats face a few tough issues of their own, however, including an amendment that would end discrimination against married gay couples. Republicans warn that adopting such an amendment would doom the larger bill.

In April, CQ Roll Call reported on the four Republican senators on the Judiciary panel who could give the negotiators fits — Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah. They plan to reprise their efforts on the floor.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, also played a key role, negotiating a high-skilled labor visa deal with Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., while also demanding that his other amendments be adopted by the full Senate or he would not support the final bill.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is another member to watch, as he has expressed some openness to immigration legislation but also has a penchant for offering nongermane amendments on pet issues, such as diplomatic spending.

When contacted about what amendments their bosses might offer, aides to various senators presented a wide range of possibilities, many of which were similar or identical to controversial provisions offered in committee — particularly on tightening border security.

Paul’s office said the Kentucky Republican is planning to offer a “Trust but Verify” amendment that would align with some of the principles he has outlined previously that he believes would implement “operational control” of American borders by boosting resources and collecting data on those who cross it. He may also introduce other measures, his office said, but he has yet to finalize his plans.

A spokeswoman for Lee said in a statement that he is considering again offering amendments that would require congressional approval of border security determinations, limit eligibility for those who have ignored court orders and remove sworn affidavits from the list of documents people may use to satisfy employment requirements.

Beyond the traditional tea party conservative ranks, Hatch and his four amendments will become an interesting battleground for supporters of the bill. Hatch helped vote the legislation out of committee but made any further support conditional on the adoption of all four Senate Finance Committee-related amendments he plans to offer on the floor — a tall order.

“If we don’t get a reasonable resolution to those amendments, I’m going to vote against this bill on the floor,” he warned in committee.

According to his office, Hatch’s four offerings would: ensure compliance with federal welfare and public benefits law, modify provisions relating to the payment of back taxes to include all income and employment taxes owed, apply a five-year waiting period for certain eligibility for tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies under the health care law, and preclude crediting of benefits such as Social Security or disability payments for periods of unauthorized employment.

Other measures in committee that could make another appearance include Sessions’ attempt to require the completion of “700 miles of reinforced, double-layering fencing” and Cruz’s amendment that would strip out the pathway to citizenship.

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