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Immigration Filibuster Fails in the Senate

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 6:55 p.m. | Over the loud protests of GOP opponents, the Senate on Monday evening voted to push an immigration overhaul toward final passage, possibly later this week.

The 67-27 vote showed that the level of support in the chamber significantly broadened following the addition of a compromise on border security.

It was a major turnabout for a contentious policy goal that six years ago fell to a similar filibuster attempt. Monday’s vote — with more than two “yea” votes to every “nay” — broke through the logjam that has plagued the issue for decades and, its backers hope, will give it momentum when it heads to an uncertain fate in the House.

Republicans who joined all Democrats in voting to kill the attempted filibuster included Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Jeff Chiesa of New Jersey, Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Dean Heller of Nevada, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, John McCain of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Marco Rubio of Florida and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

Flake, Graham, McCain and Rubio are all members of the “gang of eight” who crafted the bipartisan bill.

The vote was held open for more than an hour, however, to accommodate several senators who experienced apparent flight delays. Six senators did not vote, including Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Mark Udall, D-Colo.

Before the test vote, supporters and critics of the Senate’s immigration overhaul traded barbs about the process.

The 27 Republicans who objected to the bill tried to rally opposition to the amendment filed on June 21 that includes the “border surge” championed by Corker and Hoeven. Opponents argued that few had an opportunity to digest its contents before the 5:30 p.m. vote to limit debate, or invoke cloture, on it.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., took the first procedural moves to close the debate on June 21, then filed two more debate-limiting cloture motions just after noon Monday on both the language of the gang of eight package as it came out of the Judiciary Committee and on the bill itself.

On the floor, GOP opponents of the border security package dubbed the proposal the “Schumer-Corker-Hoeven” amendment, giving lead billing to New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a member of his party’s leadership.

GOP leaders blasted the process, with Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas accusing Reid of shutting down the amendment process, a point Reid’s office had rebutted earlier in the day.

“Our side wants a right to choose our own amendments, not to have the majority leader choose which of our amendments he’s going to ordain to allow debate and votes on,” Cornyn said.

But as of Monday evening, the Senate was in a procedural situation that would effectively require unanimous consent to allow further amendment votes.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., issued a statement explaining his opposition to limiting the debate, saying he wasn’t confident the amendment negotiated by Corker, Hoeven and others would accomplish border security.

“When I called for a debate on immigration earlier this month, a massive bill, pushed up against an artificial deadline, without any real opportunity for review or amendment isn’t what I had in mind,” McConnell said. “Since what we do here is far more important than how many votes we do it with, there is simply no reason we need to end this debate now in order to meet some artificial deadline determined by the Majority Leader’s summer schedule.”

Reid has long said the chamber would complete work on the bill before leaving for the July Fourth recess. Fourteen GOP critics sent a letter to Reid earlier Monday charging him with shutting down the debate and seeking a “vote-a-rama” on dozens of further amendments.

“By point of reference, there were 46 roll call votes on floor amendments to the 2007 immigration bill, which was significantly stronger on enforcement,” wrote the 14 senators, led by David Vitter of Louisiana.

In a statement, a Reid spokesman called the GOP complaints “misguided,” citing the lengthy markup in the Judiciary Committee.

“In most instances, Republicans have been the reason we’ve been unable to hold more amendment votes. For instance, Sen. Cornyn refused to hold a vote on his own amendment for more than a week, even though Democrats were ready and willing to vote,” the spokesman said.

The Corker-Hoeven amendment is an omnibus package that replaces much of the text of the Senate’s immigration bill by incorporating changes to multiple titles, including amendments filed by a number of senators. Here are a few of the provisions that aren’t related to the Corker-Hoeven deal:

1. Seafood Processing

Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Murkowski scored inclusion of language supporting Alaska’s vital seafood industry. It would once again allow processors to bring in seasonal seafood workers under the J-1 “summer work travel” via program. The pair also got a provision included to designate seafood processing as a “shortage occupation” that can get longer-term guest workers under a new visa program.

2. Visiting Artists

For procedural reasons, the base manager’s amendment is actually a modified form of an amendment offered by Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and Hatch to expedite processing of temporary visas for visiting artists such as musicians.

That amendment was then included in the much longer text of the underlying omnibus package. The two longtime senators want to create certainty in how the applications are processed, because delays can interfere with production and performance schedules.

3. Northern Border Communities

Leahy also worked with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on an amendment to curtail federal activities on private property near the northern border and on checkpoints along highways such as Interstate 91 in Northern Vermont.

“In Vermont, it would be easy for anyone who crossed the border 100 miles back to avoid these checkpoints simply by using any of the many other roads that bypass the checkpoints,” Leahy said.

4. Citizenship Requirements for Veterans

The plan includes language from an amendment filed by Kirk and Chris Coons, D-Del., to ease English language proficiency and civics requirements for veterans who received awards for combat during their active-duty military service.

5. Youth Jobs

Language authored by Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., would provide $1.5 billion over two years for a youth employment program, offset through the collection of fees for some visas. He’s been concerned that the immigration provisions could have adverse effects on U.S. workers.

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