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Senate Torn on Immigration Bill

June 7, 2007 at 6:25 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now for the latest on the stall of the immigration bill in the Senate, we turn to Fawn Johnson. She has been tracking the bill’s progress for Congress Daily, a newsletter published by the National Journal Group.

Fawn Johnson, there’s word late today a deal may be in the offing, but it’s been stalled today. And for those of us who don’t follow the minutia of the Senate procedures, help us understand what’s going on.

FAWN JOHNSON, Reporter, Congress Daily: Well, it’s really fairly simple. The leaders of the Senate and then the negotiators who put together this bill are just trying to craft a game plan to finish the debate.

There are a number of Republicans who are claiming that they didn’t get their say in committee and they would like to have some amendments. There are Democrats and Republicans on both sides who are upset with how the debate has gone so far.

There’s another vote that’s set for tonight. There is an expectation that that vote will allow the debate to go forward some more. It’s all very fluid, and nobody is quite sure how it’s going to go in the end. But the idea is to just keep the process moving.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is this what was expected? Because, going in, we were told “fragile compromise,” but the expectation was it had a good shot at passing.

FAWN JOHNSON: And I think that’s still the case. It’s become much more fragile over the last, I’d say, 24 hours. There have been a couple of amendments that have been accepted unexpectedly by the Senate that have actually caused the group of core negotiators — we call them the grand bargainers, because this compromise bill is a grand bargain — even they can’t accept.

So as part of the negotiations to finish this debate, what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to tinker with some of those amendments. There’s one that Democrats are very upset about; there’s one that Republicans are very upset about. And that’s all part of the negotiations, as well as what kinds of amendments can they vote on before they finish?

And the end is still uncertain on final passage whether enough of the core compromisers can actually get support for the final bill.

Immigration bill supporters

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we know President Bush wants this to happen. Remind us who else wants this immigration reform bill to pass? Who else besides the president?

FAWN JOHNSON: I'm sorry, I think I didn't quite hear the last -- that last thing that you were asking.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I'm sorry. What I was asking was, remind us who's on which side? Who's on the side of wanting immigration reform to pass, besides the president?

FAWN JOHNSON: Well, there's a number of people who want it to pass. The business community is wholeheartedly behind this effort, even though they take a real hit in this bill. You know, there are some very harsh provisions for them. And also immigrant advocacy groups, Latino groups, and even some unions are behind the effort, because they really want to see the legalization of the illegal population that is part of this bill.

So it's a pretty broad coalition. There are, you know, groups on the other side who don't believe in legalization. They're the ones that don't want it to pass. But the people who want it to pass actually span both Republican and Democratic parties.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, most of the Democrats are for it, is that correct?

FAWN JOHNSON: I wouldn't say that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You wouldn't say that?

FAWN JOHNSON: I would say that most of the Democrats are for legalizing the current illegal population. That is very important to them. At least half of the Democrats in the Senate have shown extreme discomfort with the guest-worker provisions that are part of this bill.

In the end, I think what you're going to see is you're going to see whether the person who has actually been at the forefront of this, Senator Kennedy, can actually pull his Democratic colleagues together and say, "I know you don't like parts of this bill, but this is only the first step. We have a House bill that we can work with. We have conference." And he's going to be there every step of the way. "So, please, trust me, and we'll vote for this."

Legislation's opponents

JUDY WOODRUFF: And many Republicans, conservatives, have problems with the bill for different reasons.

FAWN JOHNSON: That's correct, and they're basically upset about the legalization parts of it. They believe that basically giving anybody who is in the country illegally a chance to stay here legally amounts to what they call amnesty. That's what the Congress passed in 1986, when we had three million illegal workers in the country, and now we have 12 million. And so they're very upset about it.

But some of the core negotiators, including the Senate Republican Conference Chairman Kyl, have accepted that legalization provision in order to get parts that they want, which would be a new guest-worker program, and also this end to so-called chain migration, in which people can bring in extended family members under family visas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, is anybody in the Senate truly undecided on this?

FAWN JOHNSON: I'd say there are a number who are truly undecided, even some of the people who stood on the podium when they announced the deal have said that they're withholding judgment on the final passage to see just what the final package looks like.

Next steps for the bill

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, help us understand what could turn out. What are the options here? What could happen?

FAWN JOHNSON: Well, I would say the most likely things that would happen is that they allow the votes to continue, and then perhaps sometime early in the week they have a final vote. The end result of that is still uncertain. But if it passes, the next step is in the House, where they are going to craft a very different bill.

They've already said -- Speaker Pelosi and Zoe Lofgren, who chairs the Immigration Subcommittee, have already said that they're going to go on a very different track, and they're going to -- they're probably going to craft a bill that's much more friendly to family and to the immigration population. They will probably take some of the business community's concerns into consideration, as well.

And that will be a whole other floor fight that we'll get a chance to watch later this summer. And if we get that far, then the two will try and conference something, and that will be as far as this debate has gotten in well on 20 years. So it will be very exciting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we won't ask you to project beyond that. All right, Fawn Johnson with Congress Daily, thanks for walking us through it.

FAWN JOHNSON: You're welcome.