New Deal on Immigration Debate Appears Close

Posted June 13, 2007 at 6:35pm

Senate Democratic and Republicans leaders appear close to reaching a deal on restarting the stalled immigration debate, with the plan calling for lawmakers to approve the current bipartisan comprehensive reform bill following a limited debate on some 22 amendments, aides said Wednesday.

While GOP aides close to the issue said it appeared likely a deal could be reached, they cautioned it remains in flux and nothing had been fully settled as of press time.

According to a draft list of the amendments being circulated Wednesday afternoon, Democrats would be given time to debate 10 amendments, while Republicans would see action on 12 of their proposed changes. But a GOP source involved in the talks said no drastic changes to the bill were expected. Additionally, any amendments that would tear apart the fragile deal would be defeated since Senators who agreed to the so-called “Grand Bargain” would vote as a bloc to ensure the integrity of their agreement remains intact.

A GOP leadership aide said all Members whose amendments would be considered are expected to vote to begin debate on the bill and on an eventual cloture motion to end debate.

Most of the GOP amendments would be offered either by those who worked on the Grand Bargain — including Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Johnny Isakson (Ga.) — or lawmakers who have supported the deal or were heavily involved in the talks that led to the agreement, such as Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa). Two Members who have sided with conservatives — Sens. John Thune (S.D.) and John Ensign (Nev.) — also have amendments on the list, as does Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas).

Conspicuously absent from the list of amendments are any proposals from the chamber’s three conservative stalwarts, Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), all of whom have been vocal opponents of not only the bill but also the process used to move it through the chamber. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who participated in most of the meetings that led to the deal before declaring his opposition, also does not have any of his amendments included on the draft list. Late Wednesday, Cornyn sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) offering to pare his list of 30 amendments down to five.

DeMint on Wednesday denounced any effort to return to the bill and said he would object to any motion to bring it up again.

“The bill is bad, the process has been unfair and very rigged, and if we go back to it it’s going to be the same thing where they pick the amendments and decide which ones are going to pass,” he said. “This just is not appropriate for the Senate the way this has been done. So I think it would be unprecedented after three failed cloture votes in one day for them to bring that back up anytime soon.”

DeMint added that if it is revived, “I would object to every possible thing. It should not come up again. It’s not appropriate to bring it up after a resounding statement from Republicans and Democrats and people all over the country. It’s just not fair to try to stuff it down everybody’s throat, and that’s what’s happening.”

Although DeMint said he has not been pressured by McConnell or Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.), conservatives who have not been as outspoken on the bill privately said this week that leadership has made it clear their only chance to have their voice heard is to agree to a deal under which their amendments would only get what amounts to a ceremonial vote.

“I think if you send a signal you’re not sure, then they’re obviously going to talk to you. I’ve made it clear what I’m going to do. I don’t want it to go back on the floor,” DeMint said.

He also complained that as part of the Grand Bargain group’s efforts to maintain their deal, Sen. Edward Kennedy (Mass.) — the primary Democratic architect of the bill — had put pressure on some lawmakers to back off their support for amendments DeMint had authored.

“The whole process is rigged, there’s no need for going down there,” DeMint said. “The last amendment I had they didn’t even give me debate time. Some of my guys voted for it until they talked to Ted Kennedy and then they changed their vote. That’s no way to run a railroad, and this is a railroad.”

Erin P. Billings contributed to this report.