Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., brought the procedural dispute over immigration amendments onto the floor Wednesday afternoon, a move that could suggest there won't be a deal to consider more changes before passing the bill.
GOP opponents of the "gang of eight" immigration plan blocked an effort by Reid to set up a vote-a-rama with 32 amendment votes on Thursday.
Reid made his proposal on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon, but he faced objection from Judiciary ranking member Charles E. Grassley. The Iowa Republican said he was acting on behalf of himself and some colleagues on his side of the aisle who were concerned about the way Reid was selecting amendments.
"They don't want to take tough votes, so they've chosen just a few of our amendments to make it look like it's very accommodating. So, I have to say I feel a bit used and abused in this process," Grassley argued.
"Gang of eight" Democrat Charles E. Schumer of New York was quick to suggest that the Republican objection came about in a bid to block a vote on an amendment backed by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, to enhance the E-Verify system for employment status verification.
Portman's amendment could have been included as part of a bipartisan catch-all package that won adoption earlier Wednesday, but he reiterated on the floor Wednesday that he wants a separate vote to signal the importance of the provision.
Schumer said that while he supports the Portman amendment, he hopes his Ohio colleague would vote for final passage even without it. Portman said he would not back the bill without what he called "strong enforcement at the workplace."
Schumer said that Republicans provided a list of 36 amendments Tuesday evening, including many from opponents of the bill, as part of what he considered a dilatory tactic.
"It's my understanding that after those 17 votes ... then we would do 17 more, and even 17 more if necessary, and yet the senator from Iowa says that we're not allowing amendments?" McCain said. "To somehow allege that the rights on this side of the aisle are being abridged, when there's a unanimous consent request to have 17 votes right now ... perhaps the senator from New York can explain to me that logic?"
"It's sort of pretzel-like logic," Schumer replied, but he added later that there couldn't be an "untold" number of amendments. Absent a deal, a vote to limit debate on the underlying bill will take place Thursday, with a vote to pass the bill no later than Friday afternoon.
Grassley contended that the amendment list was designed to provide cover for supporters on both sides of the aisle who wanted a more open process, and in an attempt to win the support from additional senators to get to a total of 70.
"After less than the expected vote yesterday, the proponents came to me wanting to strike a deal that would give us votes on amendments. The problem is that ... they still want to limit our amendments, but they want to make sure that we include amendments that will help them pick up some votes," Grassley said. "Well, I happen to be a farmer, but I haven't — and I'm proud to be a farmer — but I want them to know that I haven't just fallen off of the hay wagon. It's pretty clear what's going on around here."