It’s a smart political ploy by the Nevada Democrat intended to inflame immigration hardliners on the right and scare House Republicans from passing a bill of their own. If Reid is successful, and budding support among House Republicans for a $659 million border package collapses, there would be less political pressure on the Senate to act before the August recess.
Except that there’s no way Reid could actually make good on his threat, nor would a border bill that was amended to include the Senate’s “gang of eight” immigration bill go anywhere in any event, regardless of how serious the majority leader’s ruse is taken in some quarters.
Here are five reasons why:
Reid doesn’t have the votes
Amending any border bill in the Senate, whether the package up for debate in the Senate or the legislation under consideration in the House, requires a supermajority of 60 votes. Reid tried to attract Republican support for the Democrats’ $2.7 billion border supplemental by pairing the bill with crucial military aid for Israel. Senate Republicans balked and Reid backed down, agreeing to hold a separate vote on the funding for Israel. It should be noted: Proceeding to a conference committee also requires 60 votes.
If very pro-Israel Senate Republicans refused to back a border supplemental they oppose just because it included money for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which they support, they’re hardly going to be swayed by “gang of eight” immigration legislation. There’s also the matter of Democratic votes. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D,, wouldn’t even commit to vote for the Senate Democratic measure in its current form, and she’s not up for re-election until 2018.
“We’re still analyzing, kind of, where we’re going to be on all of this,” she told the Washington Examiner on Wednesday. “I think we need to have the debate.”
Even Republicans who support immigration reform oppose advancing it through the supplemental
Last week, and again this week, the four “gang of eight” Republicans issued a joint statement making clear that they would oppose any border bill that included the immigration legislation they negotiated. That means Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida — the four most enthusiastic GOP supporters of the bill — are guaranteed “no” votes.
“To be clear,” the four senators said. “Without our support — which he would not have — it would be impossible for Leader Reid to add comprehensive immigration reform or the DREAM Act to any border crisis bill this week.”
Changing Senate rules is impractical
Conspiracy theorists argue that Reid could go nuclear again and alter the Senate rules to eliminate the Republicans’ ability to filibuster the border bill and proposed amendments to the underlying legislation. It’s unlikely.
The chamber has become more polarized since Reid implemented the “nuclear option” and reduced the ability of the minority to block presidential appointees. It’s unclear that his caucus would agree to another rules change with less than 100 days to until what is shaping up to be a very tough midterm for Senate Democrats. Such a blatantly political maneuver would be risky this close to November.
Additionally, members are committed to adjourning at week’s end for the August recess to get home and campaign. Changing the rules, and then debating a border bill with “gang of eight” legislation attached, would take several days.
It's dead on arrival in the House
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, supports comprehensive immigration reform, broadly. But he opposes the “gang of eight” bill, as do most House Republicans who otherwise support reform, and would face a mutiny if he nevertheless tried to sneak the Senate legislation through Congress as part of the border fix.
The reason Boehner never pushed a House version of immigration reform this year was precisely because doing so would jeopardize his speakership and threaten the Republican majority in the House. The issue divides his conference and could depress GOP turnout in the midterm elections that at this point still favor the Republicans. That’s why Boehner moved quickly Tuesday to make abundantly clear that any border bill sent over from the Senate that includes “gang of eight” language would “run into a brick wall in the people’s House.”
“The House of Representatives will not take up the Senate immigration reform bill or accept it back from the Senate in any fashion,” Boehner said in a prepared statement. “Nor will we accept any attempt to add any other comprehensive immigration reform bill or anything like it, including the DREAM Act, to the House's targeted legislation, which is meant to fix the actual problems causing the border crisis.”