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Democrats stand ground against GOP immigration amendments

Senate rejected changes to the reconciliation package related to Title 42 border restrictions

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., played a role in a key procedural move on an immigration issue during the "vote-a-rama" over the weekend.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., played a role in a key procedural move on an immigration issue during the "vote-a-rama" over the weekend. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Democrats stuck together in floor votes over the weekend to stop immigration-related amendments to their budget reconciliation bill, sidestepping Republican efforts to exploit divisions in the Democratic caucus ahead of the midterm elections.

Republicans failed to attract any Democratic votes on an amendment to extend border asylum restrictions under the public health directive Title 42, even though a similar proposal won support months ago from a handful of Democrats, including some facing tough reelection races.

That helped ensure the final package could win the support of progressive Democrats, who had sworn to vote it down if Republican “poison pill” immigration amendments were added during the hourslong “vote-a-rama” process over the weekend.

“In the wee hours of the night, GOP Senators offered anti-immigrant poison-pill amendments designed to kill this legislation—but Democrats refused to play along,” Sergio Gonzales, executive director of the advocacy group Immigration Hub, said in a news release.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., offered the amendment that would provide $1 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue expelling asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border under Title 42 until 120 days after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Republicans had hoped the moderate Democrats who broke with their party in April would do so again on Lankford’s amendment, which needed a simple majority to be adopted. But the amendment was defeated in a 50-50 party-line vote.

Then, Democrats used a procedural maneuver to ensure their vulnerable members could safely cast a vote to keep the Title 42 directive in place, which could help them politically during a historically busy period at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., offered a similar amendment to extend Title 42 border restrictions. But, crucially, the amendment did not include any funding changes, which violated a Senate rule that requires provisions in reconciliation bills to be strictly budgetary in nature. Lankford’s amendment would have passed muster under the rules.

Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., raised a point of order against Tester’s amendment, which triggered a motion to waive it. Under Senate rules, the motion was subject to a 60-vote threshold instead of a simple majority.

That gave cover for Tester and five other Democrats — Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — to join every Republican and vote for Tester’s amendment without worrying it would be added to the bill or jeopardize the overall package.

The strategy drew criticism from Republicans.

“They had the opportunity to vote for real amendments that would abolish the new gas tax and that would extend Title 42 authority to protect our southern border,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a news release. “But when given that opportunity, they voted no.”

Other Republican attempts to force difficult votes on immigration were met with unified resistance.

Democrats rejected an amendment from Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., that would have provided $440 million to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for detaining and removing undocumented immigrants who committed felony criminal offenses.

They also voted down an amendment from Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., to require the hiring of additional Customs and Border Protection agents before hiring any new IRS agents.

An amendment from Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, to provide $500 million to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for expenses related to the barrier construction on the U.S. southern border was rejected as well.

The sweeping bill, which would pour hundreds of billions of dollars into clean energy programs, raise taxes on corporations and lower health care costs, headed to the House for a vote expected Friday.

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