Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) responded with vitriol to the demand by GOP members of his committee for an open and transparent immigration reform process.
Every Senate Republican on the Judiciary Committee, except for Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona–both members of the bipartisan so-called “Gang of Eight” pushing immigration reform–signed the request and sent it to Leahy last Tuesday.
Instead of addressing the concerns in the letter in his response days later, Leahy launched a lengthy political and rhetorical attack on one of the letter’s signers: Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions.
“I understand that you organized a letter to me from some of the Republican Senators on the Judiciary Committee,” Leahy wrote in his response, which he addressed “Dear Jeff.”
“Since it was distributed to the press and you went to the Senate press gallery to talk about it before I received it, I am not sure whether you really meant your ‘open letter’ for me, for the group of Senators meeting with Senator McCain, or just for the press,” Leahy continued.
“You know that I am always available to you if you have a concern and that, as Chairman, I have always treated you and all members of the Committee fairly,” Leahy claimed. “I have gone out of my way to protect the rights of the minority on the Committee despite the treatment Democratic Senators received preceding my chairmanship.”
The crux of the GOP Judiciary Committee members’ concern is that Leahy will rush through a large, comprehensive immigration reform package when the Senate returns from recess the week after next.
They noted that the last significant immigration reform bill in the Senate, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which was first introduced in 1982, had been preceded by “100 hours of hearings with 300 witnesses before marking up a bill.”
“Congress continued to debate the bill for the next three years, and even then, the Judiciary Committee spent three months reviewing the bill before it was reported in August of 1985,” they wrote.
The Committee Republicans had asked Leahy “that the public be given adequate time, consistent with past practice in handling complex comprehensive immigration legislation, to read and analyze the contents of any such bill before it is listed on the Committee’s Executive Business Meeting agenda.”
For immigration reform this year, only three hearings have been held. Leahy claims that “during the four Congresses that preceded this one,” or over the past eight years, an additional 40 hearings were held “on these issues.”
Even though the precedent for public input and congressional hearings has not been met, Leahy said in his response to Sessions that “we have conducted multiple hearings on the exigent need for a comprehensive fix to our broken immigration system,” and that he now hopes “to turn to comprehensive immigration legislation and consider it through our normal Committee process.” Leahy does, however, admit that “we do not have a legislative proposal before us.”
Leahy then proceeded to attack Sessions for over two full pages. “Despite the fact that I have not scheduled a markup, you have decided to criticize me preemptively for something I have not done,” Leahy wrote. “In some ways your letter reminded me of the letter Republican Senators sent to President Obama threatening filibusters of his judicial nominees before he had sent a single nominee to the Senate.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman then went on to claim that the lead-up to the passage of Obamacare was an open and transparent process and argued that it was preceded by “countless hours of public hearings and marathon sessions of public markups in multiple committees.”
Leahy’s comment was in response to the GOP senators’ writing in their letter: “The last time Congress considered legislation of this magnitude that was written behind closed doors and passed with no process, it resulted in sweeping changes to our healthcare system, the negative consequences of which are only now coming to light.”
Leahy then suggested Sessions’ own party leaders have excluded him. “I appreciate your frustration as someone excluded from the group that Senator McCain has pulled together to try to develop a bipartisan legislative proposal,” Leahy wrote. “Maybe that is why you copied him on the letter as well as the Senate Republican Leader [Mitch McConnell]. That is not a beef you have with me.”
Leahy went on to cite the Republican National Committee’s recent “autopsy” report, saying he was “encouraged” by its recommendations in favor of immigration reform and using it as an argument against Sessions.