There was a mild uproar Tuesday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he would move to bring the immigration debate to a close as early as Friday, less than two weeks after it began.
But as it turns out, Senate Republicans aren't all that upset with the Nevada Democrat's determination to set up final passage of the "Gang of Eight" immigration reform package no later than June 28, when Congress is scheduled to head home for the July 4 recess. After initially attempting to extend the debate, even conservative opponents of the Senate bill, eager to see their amendments voted on, declined to criticize Reid, D-Nev.
"I share his frustration that we should have been processing amendments," Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said. "But now it looks like we've broken a little bit of ice ... I hope we'll proceed to offer and process amendments like the Senate's supposed to."
Planning for a likely Republican-led filibuster, Reid informed senators that he could begin the multi-step process required to defeat the blockade as early as Friday but possibly not until Monday. That would ensure that the Senate would be in a position for a final vote by the end of next week, presuming it has the support of 60 senators. Even once Reid begins this process, votes on amendments are still possible.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., typically negotiates directly with Reid the terms of the debate over particular legislation, horse-trading over amendments and how long a bill sits on the floor for consideration. But with Republicans split into at least three camps on the immigration package, McConnell left GOP members to chart their own path.
Here's what to watch for during the assumed final 10 days of the debate:
GOP Senators fall into three groups, and all are calling their own "disorganized shots," according to one knowledgeable Republican operative: The four in the "Gang of Eight;" a handful considered solid "no" votes; and perhaps 15 who might be persuadable if the border security provisions are strengthened. However, GOP members say privately that they do not believe the gettable universe of Republicans numbers more than 10, based on the changes Democrats are willing to accept on border security.
"A lot of Republican senators are looking for some effective border security provisions that can be added to the bill that will permit them to vote for it and send it to the House where we believe it will be improved," Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said.
Border Security Dilemma:
The existing bill lacks more Republican support because the triggers intended to ensure that border security goes hand-in-hand with the legalization of illegal immigrants were deemed too weak. But Democrats rejected any changes that would either delay legalization or extend indefinitely a path to citizenship that as designed would take 10 to 15 years.
Cornyn's amendment to strengthen the triggers without delaying legalization was rejected by the Democrats. Now, other Republicans are collaborating on an amendment referred to on Capitol Hill as "Cornyn-lite." They hope to find the sweet spot between the current bill and Cornyn's proposal. This budding idea happens to mirror the changes Rubio wants, which include mandating a border security plan that the executive branch must implement.
Will they embrace a Republican amendment to beef up the legislation's border security provisions, or do they gamble that they can get 60 votes and put House Republicans on the defensive with the bill as-is? On Tuesday, both Reid and New York Sen. Charles Schumer, a member of the "Gang of Eight," indicated that Democrats would accept Republican changes. Schumer appears open to what Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is asking for, suggesting that he's still looking for 60 votes.
"Going for more specific metrics instead of just giving [the Department of Homeland Security] the money, but saying you've got to do this amount of drones here -- that doesn't violate [the "Gang of Eight's"] principles," Schumer said. "Any trigger they'd send us, obviously we'd have to look at very, very carefully."
david drucker Senior Congressional Correspondent