The Senate’s supposedly open and lengthy debate on immigration and amnesty will likely come to a quick end on Thursday, leaving both Democratic and GOP groups scrambling to find 60 votes before a Senate recess starts on Friday.
The short period means the outcome will be deeply shaped by Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell’s power over the debate rules and by President Donald Trump’s willingness to Tweet a promised veto of any bill he does not meet his popular goals.
“This is going to be done or not done this week,” Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republicans in the Senate, said Monday. “People had better get to work because the clock is ticking.”
The Senate goes into recess on Friday for a week, allowing home-state voters to meet their Senators and make clear their support for an amnesty, a compromise or opposition to an amnesty. Those voters have plenty of opportunities to make their views clear via many civic groups and websites, such as NumbersUSA, Stop DACA.org or United We Dream or Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us.
The short process may also be tangled up if Texas Sen. Ted Cruz uses his rights under Senate rules to force other Senators to debate the large and small amnesties that are now being pushed in the Senate bills. Cruz was the only Senator to vote against McConnell’s procedural rule. The promise of citizenship to the younger illegals “is inconsistent with the promises that he and Republicans have made to the voters, and is in fact further to the left of President Obama’s position,” said spokeswoman Catherine Frazier.
Sen. Dick Durbin, the leading Democratic amnesty advocate, told reporters on Monday that his proposed “Dream Act” amnesty for roughly 3.6 million illegals does not have 60 votes. “I just don’t know at this moment that we’ll have 60 votes,” he told in a low-profile chat on Monday. “I don’t know if we can get 11 of the Republicans to join the Democrats on anything,” he said.
Durbin’s amnesty bill is backed by several GOP Senators, including Sen. Linsey Graham and Sen. Cory Gardner, who is running the GOP’s Senate election campaigns in 2018.
The Twitter accounts used by Durbin and Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer show no objection to the compressed time for a debate. But Durbin and his allies used Twitter to make an emotional and anecdotal pitch for their huge, expensive and risky Dream Act amnesty:
— Senate Democrats (@SenateDems) February 12, 2018
The GOP amnesty-and-immigration “Secure and Succeed” bill pushed by Sen. Chuck Grassley, Cornyn and allies is a close match for Trump’s four-part “Framework” amnesty-and-immigration bill.
It offers an amnesty for at least 1.8 million younger illegals, winds down the chain-migration program over the next ten years, ends the lottery visa, reforms border-security laws and approves a $25 billion fund for constructing the wall.
The President’s framework “is a best and final offer” after multiple prior compromises, not a vehicle for more compromises, said Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, perhaps the most outspoken ally for President Donald Trump on the Hill. “It is time for the Democrats to start making concessions and take ‘Yes’ for an answer,” he said in a late afternoon Monday press conference.
Cotton’s strong statement suggests the President has decided to reject any weaker proposal, and take the issue to the voters in November.
The Trump proposal in the Grassley bill can pass the Senate despite Democratic complaints, Cotton said. “Ultimately, if the Senators in both parties have a choice between [passing] the President’s proposal or [passing] nothing at all, I think the President’s proposal will succeed.”
The Grassley bill was boosted Monday when McConnell gave it his support, saying:
I support the president’s proposal and my colleagues’ legislation to implement it. The Secure and Succeed Act is fair, address both sides’ most pressing concerns, conforming to the conditions the president has put forward.
Business groups strongly oppose the Trump/Grassley plan, partly because it trims legal immigration by killing the visa lottery and winding down chain-migration over a decade.
There are also several other proposals that may be offered, including an amnesty bill by GOP Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, two bills drafted by amnesty enthusiast GOP. Sen. Jeff Flake, and a possible proposal from a large group of swing-voting Senators.
The swinging Senators group is led by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, which had merely 95 ‘DACA’ illegals in 2017. That group’s much-touted plan may never be introduced. On Monday, Collins told reporters that we’re close, but we’re not ready quite yet.”
So far, McConnell has designed the debate so that each proposal needs 60 votes to pass, not just 50. That high bar allows many opportunities for Senators to vote for proposals that they know will fail, and it also requires Senators to get roughly 15 votes from the other party before a proposal is approved.
But three days is also very little time for Senators to assemble temporary, fleeting coalitions, especially if McConnell uses his control of the rules to block a proposal or if Trump promises a veto.
One danger is that McConnell may use a likely logjam to introduce an establishment amnesty and then rush it through as a supposed compromise, said Rachel Bovard, policy director at the Conservative Partnership Institute.
But yeah this will definitely be an open process! Um, no.
Also heaven forbid the Senate have to work more than 2.5 days a week. Good grief. https://t.co/wtydS3Wair
— Rachel Bovard (@rachelbovard) February 12, 2018
“I’m concerned he says he has an open process … but it will be far from that — it will be a very choreographed drama,” Bovard told Breitbart News. Once the Senators have blocked each other’s proposals, she said, McConnell “bring in a ‘Grand Agreement’ and say ‘Pass it.'”
“That’s what happened with the budget bill last week, and when [Sen.] Rand Paul tried to read it, [the other Senators] gave him hell for it,” she said, adding:
The only pressure point on him is the consent of the rest of the Republicans — he is able to get away with it because his [GOP] conference lets him do it … [In the Senate] no-one wants to do anything painful.
If McConnell passes an amnesty out of the Senate, she said, the GOP’s message to voters in November will be “Vote for Democrats or vote for Republicans who passed a trillion-dollar deficit, failed to remove Obamacare, and granted an amnesty.”
Those worries about McConnell are fueled by the scarcity of GOP Senators who are backing Trump’s populist policies, and by the variety and scale of the GOP’s fumbles in the immigration debate. For example, Trump’s liaison chief on the Hill, Marc Short, is not pushing his immigration priorities and prefers to play a hands-off role as a mediator.
But McConnell cannot push an amnesty if it will damage President Trump’s political clout, said Mark Krikorian, the director of the Center for Immigration Studies. He added:
My guess is McConnell sees that this as essential for Trump’s political capital, which is essential for Republican success in November. I’m not sure he’s not thinking about if will be really popular … [but] whether it is esential for everything rselse, such as [the confirmation of conservative] judges.
“It all depends on President Trump,” said Rosemary Jenks, policy director for NumbersUSA. Trump has the power to block any amnesty bill by threatening a veto, so “if he says, ‘No, I will veto McCain/Coons, Graham/Durbin, whichever of the ridiculously bad proposals [are being pushed],’ then it is over.”