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Senate Democrats Pledge Regular Order for Immigration Overhaul

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Leahy, left, will hold Judiciary Committee meetings on whatever immigration policy changes the Senate comes up with.

Senate Democratic leaders said Thursday that the immigration overhaul they intend to move in 2013 will proceed through regular order.

“I look forward to the good old days when we had major legislation go through committees,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer said. The New Yorker is the No. 3 Democratic leader and a member of the bipartisan group of eight senators that outlined principles for a rewrite of immigration law earlier this week. That proposal includes a process for undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship.

Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois is one of Schumer’s Democratic colleagues in the group. The two joined Majority Leader Harry Reid at a Thursday afternoon news conference where the Nevada Democrat emphasized his support of the bipartisan plan under development. He also reiterated that it would go through the Judiciary Committee, under the auspices of its chairman, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont.

“The first thing we’re going to do is make sure that there’s a good, deep discussion of the bipartisan group. Then they — I have two members of the Judiciary Committee right here, and they will take this to the Judiciary Committee with Senator Leahy, where the bill will come from that committee to the floor. And that’s the process,” Reid said. “We’re going to stick with that process.”

Schumer pointed to the fact that the 2007 immigration overhaul effort did not follow regular order as one factor that contributed to its failure. He referenced a disagreement over whether to create a sunset on a program dealing with the future flow of immigrants into the country that culminated with a contentious amendment by then-Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D.

“In 2007, future flow scuttled the bill. Byron Dorgan did an amendment and it scuttled the bill. There had been no committee process,” Schumer explained. “Hopefully, such an amendment, if there’s people who have a problem with whatever we come up with on future flow, would be brought up in committee, we would see where the relative strength and weakness of that amendment is, and we could modify the bill so it could pass.”

The concept of regular order has become something of a foreign topic in the Senate in recent years, with many leadership-level negotiations serving as a substitute for the committee process. Senior Senate Republicans have panned Reid’s reliance on a provision in Senate rules that allows him to get bills placed directly on the Senate’s calendar of business without committee markups.

Nonetheless, Leahy has continued to hold regular Thursday morning committee business meetings that you could almost set your watch by. With the business ahead on both immigration and gun control, those sessions may need to find a larger meeting room.

Reid would not specify whether he thought a gun control measure or an immigration bill should advance first, leaving that determination to Leahy.

“We have one of the most senior members of the Senate who is chairman of that committee. He can do both. He can do both issues. And he’s going to do both issues. And we’re going to treat both issues the same way,” Reid said. “The Republicans — and rightfully so — feel better about bills that go through the committee structure. And we’re going to do that on immigration. We’re going to do it on violence, guns. Also, not only do Republicans feel better, so do we.”

That would represent just the first step in achieving Democratic leaders’ goal of passing an immigration bill by summer.

“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 that will be brought up. There will be a lot of discussion brought up. We may have to have a number of votes on different amendments in a different number of procedural ways,” Reid said. “But we’re going to have a legislation done in the Senate the way that it’s supposed to be done.”

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