The era of good feelings surrounding the immigration bill collapsed Wednesday, less than 24 hours into the Senate’s debate on the issue, after Republicans and Democrats couldn’t even agree on how vote on amendments.
On the table are major border-security proposals, including building hundreds of miles of double-tier fencing and delaying legalization until after the borders are secure.
But Democrats said they want to require those amendments to clear the 60-vote threshold, as if they were being filibustered, while Republicans said that’s unfair.
“It really looks like the fix is in,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who sponsored the amendment to delay legalization until after the border is secure and who said requiring 60 votes for all amendments is a way to shut down Republican chances at changing the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who asked for the 60-vote threshold for all votes, is trying to protect the crux of the Senate deal, which grants quick legal status to illegal immigrants but withholds a full path to citizenship until after the Homeland Security Department spends more money on border security, enacts a national verification system to check workers’ legal status, and begins checking visitors entering or leaving the country at air and sea ports.
Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he was shocked the Republicans were now objecting to a 60-vote threshold because they have blocked so much of President Obama’s agenda by using the filibuster themselves.
“How many times have we heard the Republican leader say on this floor, and publicly, that the new reality in the United States Senate is 60?” said Mr. Reid, pointing to repeated Republican filibusters of Mr. Obama’s agenda.
With no agreement on how to proceed, the Senate didn’t take any votes Wednesday.
All sides are preparing for an eventual showdown on an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, who released a 134-page amendment that would impose stiffer requirements for the Homeland Security Department to meet.
He said the bill as written doesn’t actually require results, but only that money be spent. Instead, Mr. Cornyn calls for hard deadlines — including delaying any future path to citizenship for illegal immigrants unless the targets are met.
“Americans are tired of hearing endless border security promises without seeing any realistic mechanism for guaranteeing results,” Mr. Cornyn said.
His amendment poses the question of what’s more important to guarantee in the bill: that borders are secure or that illegal immigrants get the chance at citizenship.
But Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who helped write the bill, said he doesn’t view it that way — and he thinks Mr. Cornyn is acting in good faith.
“I can tell you, he wants to improve the bill and he said himself he’d like to vote for it. But he believes it’s got to have a firmer trigger with regard to the effectiveness of 90 percent. We’re trying to work with him and try to find ways that can accommodate that,” Mr. Flake said.