Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., declined Tuesday to say whether votes on amendments extending expanded rights to gays and lesbians in the pending immigration bill should happen before the legislation hits the floor.
If the Senate Judiciary Committee currently marking up the bill doesn't include protections for lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender persons, advocates would face a much tougher hurdle adding an amendment on the Senate floor with a probable 60-vote threshold.
Republicans in a bipartisan "gang of eight" have said such measures are a "non-starter" and would kill the underlying package.
Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., has committed to bring up the LGBT rights provisions for a vote but has declined to say whether that would be in committee or on the floor. His committee's markup could end as soon as Wednesday night.
"Sen. Leahy will make that decision, not me," Reid said. "He runs the committee and he's done a good job."
When asked whether he had discussed the matter with the White House, Reid said he had not, although that does not mean his staff has not been involved in the delicate negotiations.
On Monday, we wrote about the pressure Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is facing from gay rights advocates at home, meeting with top Empire State lawmakers such as city council head and current mayoral candidate Christine Quinn about extending the rights afforded by the current bill to LGBT immigrants.
But it's unclear how much Democrats want to gamble on this issue, knowing that approving these amendments could imperil the larger legislation. But Democrats are not the only ones with skin in the game. Republicans want to see this bill done. If they didn't, the process would not have made it this far. The GOP recently had to relent on the expansion of gay rights in another bill — the Violence Against Women Act — although the politics of that particular legislation were more clearly in the Democrats' favor.