Activists are increasingly targeting Vice President Kamala Harris as they battle to inject a large amnesty for illegal immigrants into the Democrats’ massive social safety net makeover, saying she has the power to make their dream a reality.
Advocates say Ms. Harris, as the presiding officer of the Senate, could override the chamber parliamentarian’s decision that has prevented Democrats from adding the amnesty to the multitrillion-dollar package.
If the vice president succeeds, they say, she will be seen as the person who finally delivered legal status to millions of illegal immigrants.
That Ms. Harris is a daughter of immigrants and was seen as a top advocate for illegal immigrants during her four years as a senator only enhances the moment for her, said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA in Action.
“Democrats owe a debt to immigrants in exchange for each election cycle in which we mobilized our people to the polls because of the promise to reform our broken immigration system,” Mr. Torres said. “Vice President Harris has the law and the power on her side to deliver on that promise.”
Mr. Torres was part of a coalition of more than 50 groups that sent a letter to Ms. Harris last week. Activists staged a protest outside the vice president’s residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory this week asking for a meeting to make their case.
They said they heard nothing, so they released the Sept. 30 letter to the public.
Activists were rallying Thursday on both coasts to increase pressure, with a demonstration outside the White House and another in Los Angeles. Advocates are planning another letter with more than 80 groups calling on the vice president to take the reins.
If Ms. Harris delivers on the activists’ demand, though, it could rewrite the legislative process in the Senate by igniting a chain that would doom the filibuster.
“If the parliamentarian’s rulings mean nothing, then the 60-vote rule means nothing and therefore the filibuster is done,” said Michael McKenna, a top legislative official in the Trump administration.
At issue is legal status for perhaps the majority of illegal immigrants. Democrats want to offer a path to citizenship and hope to tuck those provisions into the budget bill now being written.
Using the budget allows Senate Democrats, who control the chamber, to avoid a Republican-led filibuster, but it comes with restrictions on the kinds of policies that can be included. Democrats have submitted two plans, but Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough said neither met the budget test.
Activists want Ms. Harris, who as vice president is the chief presiding officer of the Senate, to make a different ruling.
Ms. Harris’ office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The demand is similar, at least politically, to the one pro-Trump activists made in January when they urged Vice President Mike Pence to reject the results of the presidential election in the Electoral College vote.
The chief difference is that few thought Mr. Pence had powers under the Constitution to make such a move, whereas Ms. Harris would be on a firm legal footing.
Legislative experts, including former parliamentarians, say a parliamentarian’s ruling has become standard in the Senate but the presiding officer retains the right to make a different ruling. Any senator can challenge that ruling and put the matter to a vote, where majority Democrats would prevail.
In their Sept. 30 letter, activists said Ms. Harris owes them for delivering votes to the Democratic ticket and, as an elected official, can and should reject the parliamentarian’s decision.
“This is exactly the kind of bold action the people demanded when they gave Democrats control of both chambers of Congress and the presidency,” the groups wrote. “It is imperative that you exercise your legitimate authority to advance the Judiciary Committee’s proposal to provide a pathway to citizenship.”
If an exception is carved out for immigration, though, it would create a broad loophole in the power of the filibuster.
That is unlikely to get the support of Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and perhaps several other Democrats who want to preserve the power of the filibuster.
“Reconciliation would be dead, dead, deadest,” said Mr. McKenna, the former Trump legislative official who now writes a column for The Washington Times.
Mr. Manchin told Latino Rebels this week that immigration is “too big” to be a part of the budget bill.
The activists are putting pressure on Democrats beyond Ms. Harris.
New Yorkers have declared #NoSleepTilCitizenship. They have hauled sleeping bags and blankets to camp out in front of the Brooklyn home of Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer. In Illinois, activists have targeted Sen. Richard J. Durbin, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is charged with writing any immigration proposal.
In Arizona, activists followed Ms. Sinema into a bathroom at Arizona State University on Sunday to make their case for citizenship, sparking a debate over the propriety of their behavior.
Ms. Harris, though, has been a focal point for activists since President Biden tapped her to try to control the unprecedented surge of illegal immigrants who have overwhelmed the Department of Homeland Security.
Ms. Harris’ team insists her billet is trying to solve the “push” factors that make people leave their home countries, but she has become the face of the broader mess at the border.
Polling released Thursday shows little confidence that the vice president is up to the task.
A staggering 75% of voters surveyed gave Ms. Harris a “poor” rating for handling “the southern border crisis.” That included 55% of Democrats, according to the September survey, sponsored by Convention of States Action and conducted by the Trafalgar Group.
The Biden team has found its push to erase Trump-era policies stymied by the courts and the border surge.
In one key policy, Homeland Security continues to expel tens of thousands of people without giving them a chance at asylum, angering immigration activists.
Jung Woo Kim, organizing director for the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, said the White House has some ground to make up and Ms. Harris could begin by overriding the parliamentarian.
“Vice President Harris has a unique opportunity to reverse the Biden-Harris administration’s currently dire legacy on immigration,” said Mr. Kim, an illegal immigrant under the protection of the DACA program.
Democrats on Capitol Hill hope it doesn’t come to that.
One “Plan C” option would be to offer legislative language that stops short of an explicit pathway to citizenship but offers a tentative legal status such as “parole,” which is the same pathway the Biden administration is using to allow Afghan evacuees into the U.S.