Change of strategy for immigration: Reform bill faces full gantlet in the Senate

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s vow last week to put the immigration bill through the regular Senate process of committee hearings and floor amendments may sound inconsequential, but it marks a major shift for the Nevada Democrat.

In 2007, the last time the chamber took up immigration, Mr. Reid twice tried to shoehorn a bill through the chamber under tightly controlled rules that locked out most debate. He was rebuffed both times, and the measure ultimately imploded under the weight of a bipartisan filibuster.

“I look back in retrospect and say it was a mistake not to go through the committee process last time,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, one of Mr. Reid’s top lieutenants, told reporters.

One week after a bipartisan group of eight senators announced that they had settled on a framework for an immigration bill, the issue has all but consumed Washington.

President Obama traveled to Las Vegas to give a speech blessing the framework and, most notably, did not draw any lines in the sand, which gives lawmakers some room to negotiate. Instead, Mr. Obama is putting his effort into one of his strengths by giving interviews to Spanish-language networks to try to drum up support.

Creating consensus

On Capitol Hill, though, the first cracks have started to show in the gang over issues such as how to handle gay partners in the legal-immigration system, and how to decide when the border is secure enough to give illegal immigrants green cards, which is the key step on the path to citizenship.

Mr. Reid said that is part of the reason he will send the bill through the regular legislative order of committee work and full floor amendments.

In 2007, Mr. Reid kept a much tighter leash on the debate. Each time, he was met with a bipartisan filibuster from senators angered at the legislation itself and at the process being used.

This time, the Nevada Democrat wants to eliminate that procedural excuse.

“Once it gets to the floor, I have made a commitment — and I’m telling everyone here — we’re going to have an amendment process. I don’t know how long it will take, but we’ll take a lot of time, because there will be a lot of important issues brought up,” Mr. Reid told reporters. “We may have to have a number of votes on different amendments in a different number of procedural ways, but we’re going to have legislation done in the Senate the way that it’s supposed to be done.”

Backing the move

An open process was welcomed by those who have been waiting for a bill to pass.

“It’s a good sign, and it hardly ever happens these days,” said Frank Sharry, executive director at America’s Voice, an advocacy group. “This is going to be wild and wide open legislating. Bring your six-shooter and a lot of bullets, because this thing is going to be crazy.”

More than any other bill in recent years, the immigration debate will be colored by the previous fight in 2007.

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