In what may be the last major whipping achievement of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders before they fade into the minority, the Californian corralled a resounding victory Wednesday on a bill that would give a path to citizenship to up to 2 million college students and soldiers who were brought to the United States illegally as children.
The House also passed a $1.25 trillion spending package for fiscal 2011 by a vote of 212-206. The must-pass measure now heads to the Senate, where it will likely be the last train out of town for this Congress next week.
The largely partisan victory on the immigration bill may prove fleeting, because there is little expectation the Senate will be able to clear it, but Democrats cheered after the 216-198 vote was gaveled down by Pelosi. Just eight Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the measure.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which has not had much to cheer in President Barack Obama’s first two years in office, hugged and hollered in delight, as did a raucous gallery of young supporters.
Pelosi had whipped the bill hard, flitting up and down the aisles to corral every possible vote.
And as fence-sitting Members broke in favor of the bill, they lined up to give a hug to Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who has spearheaded support for the legislation for years without success.
The vote was in doubt much of the day, according to several Democrats, with party leaders rallying their flock for one last vote for a key constituency. Prospects were helped when House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) prevailed on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to put off a vote in the Senate, a senior aide said. House Democrats feared that if the Senate failed to advance the bill, wavering House Members might use it as a reason to vote “no.”
Republicans complained that the bill would allow people with a GED diploma to gain legal residency, would provide a pathway to citizenship after two years of postsecondary education and would allow some people with misdemeanor convictions to participate.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, came out hard against the vote and accused Democrats of ignoring voters’ wishes.
“Lame duck sessions of Congress should not be used to move large and controversial agenda items like the DREAM Act amnesty bill,” he said in a statement Wednesday night. “The fact that the outgoing Democratic leadership in the House is subverting the Rule of Law by rewarding millions of illegal aliens for their presence in the country is an act of spite aimed at America’s voters. Americans should insist that the United States Senate restore legitimacy to the remaining days of the 111th Congress by preventing this nightmarish DREAM Act amnesty legislation from becoming law.”
Obama rejected the amnesty argument in a statement Wednesday. “The DREAM Act is not amnesty; it’s about accountability, and about tapping into a pool of talent we’ve already invested in,” he said.
He also pledged to pursue broader legislation. “The DREAM Act is a piece of a larger debate that is needed to restore responsibility and accountability to our broken immigration system broadly,” he said. “My administration will continue to do everything we can to move forward on immigration reform; today’s House vote is an important step in this vital effort.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.