A Primer on the Upcoming Senate Immigration Debate

On Tuesday afternoon, Harry Reid plans to bring the amnesty/immigration deform bill (S.744) to the floor for the first procedural vote – cloture on motion to proceed with debate.  Harry Reid can probably count on all 54 Democrats voting for cloture, with the possible exception of Mark Pryor (AR).  In a sane world, Senate Republicans would all vote against the motion (even assuming we lose the 4 GOP gang members plus Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte), and this national nightmare would be over.  They would recognize that the bill is beyond fatally flawed and cannot (or will not)  be salvaged by proceeding to debate with the amendment process.  They would demand that Obama implement the current laws on the books before discussing any amnesty and repeating the mistakes of 1986.


Unfortunately, the GOP leadership in the Senate is also fatally flawed.  Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn have announced their plans to vote for cloture, all but ensuring that at least 15 more Republicans join them in sealing the fate of this bill.  Obviously, it is still important for Republicans to pressure their members into voting no.  The lower the number of no votes is on the first vote, the more momentum it will give to the proponents of amnesty.

Most of the first week will be consumed by opening statements and speeches from individual members.  However, towards the end of the week, we will begin to take up amendments:

Conservative concerns:

  • Ameliorating the Pig:  There are a number of Republicans, from McConnell and Cornyn to Paul and Hatch, who would love to vote for this bill.  They have all suggested that anything is better than the status quo, and that they desire for “something” to pass.  However, they understand that the structure of the bill is too egregious for them to save face with their constituents.  Democrats also understand that they need to pretend to offer some concessions in order for Republicans to join them with this amnesty – an endeavor they know to be unpopular with most of the country.  Senator Cornyn has already offered an amendment to strengthen the enforcement measures in the bill.  The problem is that his amendment will only strengthen the triggers to upgrade their status to green cards and citizenship.  The illegals will still get immediate amnesty once Napolitano submits her vacuous security plan.  The rest is all kabuki theater.  Once they receive their initial amnesty, there is no way there will be enough will to withstand the relentless political pressure to upgrade their status, irrespective of whether the enforcement benchmarks are met.  We will be left with another failed amnesty – one that has already incentivized a new wave of illegal migration.

As such, it is not hard to see how Schumer and Rubio could work out a deal using Cornyn’s amendment as a baseline.  Even though Democrats are currently inveighing against Cornyn’s amendment, they are engaging in typical hardline negotiation tactics (something Republicans will never do).  If they get the feeling that half the GOP conference would go along with such a fake enforcement strategy, they will negotiate the amendment down and agree to a grand compromise, which keeps the basic structure of the bill intact.

Ironically, the excuse for offering this amendment is that the status quo is unacceptable because Obama won’t enforce the laws.  Yet, somehow, we are supposed to believe that he will enforce new laws, especially if those laws are not barriers to the initial and most important amnesty.

  • Passing with 70-75 Votes: As we’ve noted, the fix is already in.  They have more than 60 votes to pass the bill, even without a phony amendment designed to feign concern over border security.  With 52-53 Democrats in support, in conjunction with the 4 GOP gang members, Kelly Ayotte, Susan Collins, and a half dozen other RINOs, the left has all the votes they need.  So why all the kabuki theater trying to “improve” the bill?

Obviously, Schumer and the Democrats understand that this bill cannot pass the House.  They also desire for Republicans to share in the blame of passing another failed amnesty.  That’s why they are aiming for a super-majority of 70-75 votes.  By passing some sort of a phony enforcement amendment to give cover for weak Republicans, Schumer hopes to obtain a super-majority, thereby placing tremendous pressure on the House.

  • Distracting the Base With Scandals:  Ironically, it might be the multiple Obama scandals that save his presidency and doom the GOP for years to come.  With much of talk radio and conservative figures consumed with the scandals, proponents of amnesty are slipping right into the end-zone without any mass outrage from the conservative base.  Although the scandals are of grave importance, nothing is more dangerous than this amnesty bill.  Beginning this week, the major talk radio show hosts have a moral obligation to begin exposing the imminent threat of this bill to their listeners.  Remember, all we need to do is hold together the base, and we will defeat this bill.  However, if we remain distracted on other issues and fail to turn up the pressure on Republican members of Congress, they will capitulate en masse.
  • The Citizenship Red Herring:  Conservatives must stay on message demanding enforcement before legalization instead of focusing on the path to citizenship.  The citizenship issue is a red herring.  Once the illegals are granted legal status, there is no way that citizenship will be permanently walled off.  The important thing is to prevent any legalization from taking place before we enforce the laws and fix the magnets like welfare and birthright citizenship.  Similar to the first point, if Democrats perceive that there is broad support for a legalization-first bill sans the path to citizenship, they would ultimately take it, with the understanding that they will easily win the citizenship shortly thereafter.


Sadly, it is very difficult to foresee a scenario in which a bill fails to pass the Senate before the July 4th weekend.  No matter how successfully we expose the duplicity and danger involved in this legislation, there are at least 60 members who couldn’t care less.  However, it is still important that we keep the numbers down, as evidenced by Schumer’s desire for a super-majority.  Conservatives must stifle the temptation to focus their attention solely on the scandals, and make a concerted effort to pressure the GOP members against this travesty.  Here are some key members to call:

Barrasso, Cochran, Wicker, Heller, Hoeven, Johanns, Johnson, Moran, Roberts, Paul, Blunt, Fisher, Toomey, Portman, Collins, Hatch, Corker Crapo

The unifying theme among conservatives – whether you believe in no amnesty or amnesty at the right time – must be ‘enforcement first.’  Marco Rubio has already admitted that any final deal will be predicated on legalization first.  Hence, there is nothing more to debate.  This behemoth must be defeated.

This piece is excerpted from my weekly legislative bulletin and analysis, The Madisonian, for The Madison Project.  To receive an electronic copy every Monday, please click here.         


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