House Democrats press Senate leaders to override parliamentarian on immigration

They ‘strongly’ urged Senate leaders to ignore her immigration-related rulings

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is among House Democrats who have called on Senate leaders to disregard their parliamentarian’s findings that broad immigration relief doesn’t belong in a reconciliation package.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is among House Democrats who have called on Senate leaders to disregard their parliamentarian’s findings that broad immigration relief doesn’t belong in a reconciliation package. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 21, 2021 at 4:55pm

Dozens of progressive House Democrats are ramping up calls for immigration relief to be included in a sprawling budget reconciliation package — regardless of what a Senate arbiter says about it.

Reps. Lou Correa, D-Calif., Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., Jesús “Chuy” García, D-Ill., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and 39 others called on Senate leaders to disregard Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough’s findings that broad immigration relief does not belong in a reconciliation package.

MacDonough, an adviser on Senate procedure, has rejected two attempts by Senate Democrats to establish a path to permanent residency for millions of undocumented immigrants in their reconciliation bill, which may pass with a filibuster-proof majority. She has reasoned that the proposals do not comply with a rule requiring measures passed via reconciliation to have a primarily budgetary impact.

In a Wednesday letter to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, the House lawmakers argued that the Senate’s presiding officer has the legal authority to issue a binding decision on a parliamentarian’s advisory opinion. The presiding officer’s decision could then only be overruled with a supermajority, according to the letter.

Under Senate procedure, the presiding officer could be Vice President Kamala Harris, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the president pro tempore, or a Leahy designee. Leahy, D-Vt., was also copied on the letter.

“This is a critical moment for our nation’s history, and we strongly urge the Presiding Officer to use their authority to disregard the Senate Parliamentarian’s ruling,” the lawmakers wrote.

After two previous rejections, Senate Democrats are currently preparing to pitch their “Plan C” on immigration, which would provide five-year work permits and deportation protection to undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for at least a decade.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., on Wednesday said lawmakers were still waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to score the proposal, at which point they will “likely” present it to MacDonough. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., another key player in immigration talks, said he expects Democrats to make their presentation “either this week or next at the latest.”

At a news conference at the House Triangle earlier Wednesday, Congressional Hispanic Caucus members called for immigration relief to be included in reconciliation. Garcia, D-Ill., also one of the letter’s signatories, called on Senate leadership to “remain bold and courageous.”

“I have not given up, even though we've had two adverse rulings by the parliamentarian, because the parliamentarian is simply an employee of the Senate. She does not control the Senate,” he told reporters.

After the news conference, Garcia said in an interview that he hopes Senate Democrats, while awaiting a decision on Plan C, view the parliamentarian’s first two decisions as a “wake-up call” to take action if needed. He noted that Senate Republicans fired the parliamentarian in 2001 after an adverse ruling.  

“That should be a wake-up call for Democrats in the Senate that the parliamentarian is simply an adviser, and do as Republicans have done in the past: Either put aside that ruling or fire the parliamentarian, rule that something is in order for consideration by a simple majority vote. That can get us immigration reform,” Garcia said.

Representatives for Schumer, Leahy and the White House didn’t immediately return requests for comment Thursday.