There was some buzz a few days ago when Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, a member of the bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration reform group, said reformers did not “currently” have the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster and move the bill to a final up-or-down vote in the Senate. It’s not clear why Menendez said that; given the party breakdown in the Senate, the Gang of Eight bill is as close to a lock for passage as a bill can be in today’s political atmosphere.
Now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is stating the obvious. “I think we have 60 votes,” Reid told a Nevada public television program this week. “Remember, we start out at 55 Democrats. I think the most I’ll lose is two or three. Let’s say I wind up with 52 Democrats. I only need eight Republicans, and I already have four, so that should be pretty easy.”
The four Reid already has, of course, are the Republican half of the Gang of Eight — Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake. Although there has been talk that Rubio has built an “exit ramp” for him to oppose the bill, it’s safe to say that barring some incredible, amazing, and totally unforeseen turn of events, Rubio and the rest of the Gang of Eight are dead certain to vote for their own legislation.
And, as Reid suggested, finding more Republicans to vote for the Gang bill will probably be easy for Democrats. A number of GOP senators would like to vote for an immigration bill, in hopes of — to use a phrase heard a lot in Republican circles on Capitol Hill — ”putting the issue behind us.” But some of those senators fear voter backlash and do not want to come out openly for the bill, at least not yet.
That is why there has been such Republican silence in the Senate about the bill. In the weeks before the Gang of Eight unveiled the proposal in April, it was common to hear Republican senators decline to comment on immigration, explaining that they were “waiting to see what Marco comes up with.” Then, after the bill was made public, some of those same senators were still quiet, apparently just to stay out of the crossfire.
They won’t be able to stay silent much longer. Reid intends to bring the bill to the Senate floor next month. Perhaps debate will drag on, and perhaps it will go quickly. But in the end, Democrats and the Gang of Eight have the votes to pass comprehensive immigration reform. That’s why the focus of the story is now on the House, where there are no sure bets.