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Early Debate on Immmigration Plan Exposes Senate Fissures

A U.S. Border Patrol agent keeps watch near the San Ysidro port of entry near San Diego, California. Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

The Morning Line

A day after 82 members of the Senate joined together to vote in favor of moving forward with a comprehensive immigration plan, the debate on the floor of the chamber Wednesday signaled that finding common ground on proposed amendments would not be so easy.

The verbal altercation that best reflects the challenges for lawmakers going forward came as Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Ariz., both members of the so-called Gang of Eight that crafted the legislation, tangled with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, over his measure to strengthen the border security elements of the bill.

Cornyn’s amendment would require the government achieve a series of security targets, including full operational control of the U.S.-Mexico border, which he defines as a 90 percent apprehension rate of illegal border crossers, before a pathway to citizenship be made available to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country.

“Without a border security trigger, immigration reform will be dead on arrival in the House of Representatives. My amendment provides such a trigger, the ‘Gang of Eight’ bill does not,” Cornyn said.

Schumer charged Cornyn’s proposal would create a situation where a path to citizenship would be “possibly yes, possibly no,” a result the New York Democrat called “unacceptable.”

McCain, meanwhile, criticized his GOP colleague for claiming the amendment, which includes thousands of additional border security personnel, would not add to the overall cost of the bill. “There is a finite amount of money authorized,” McCain said. “It’s simple first-grade mathematics.”

“No border is ever going to be sealed,” McCain added. He said the goal should instead be to get to a point where the American people “have confidence” in the system so that lawmakers can move forward with the rest of the legislation.

The Arizona lawmaker also pushed back on accusations from some Republicans that supporters of the legislation were intent on defeating any changes to the bill. McCain called such charges “patently false,” saying the bill was not “written on golden tablets.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, backed the proposal last month when it passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Wednesday he expressed concerns about the direction of the measure.

“There are a lot of people on this side who would like to vote for a final bill,” Hatch said. But the Utah Republican said his support would be contingent upon the adoption of four amendments he introduced, including provisions to ensure the payment of back taxes by newly legalized immigrants, and mandating a five-year wait period after people become permanent residents before they can receive health care tax credits.

Hatch said he was “laying down the gauntlet” with those amendments. “Unless we address these four issues I believe this bill is designed to fail,” he said. “If we can pass this bill with these amendments, it would go a long way. … If this is going to be a political exercise, count me out.”

While the policy was the focal point Wednesday, the process for holding votes on amendments also became a point of contention, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid objecting to GOP demands that changes be held to a simple majority standard.

The Nevada Democrat accused Republicans of ignoring their own requirements for a 60-vote threshold on legislation. “When it works to their advantage, they do away with McConnell rule. What is the McConnell rule? 60 votes on everything,” Reid said.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, accused Reid of obstruction by setting a 60-vote requirement, and said it suggested “the fix is in” to pass the bill in its current form.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., meanwhile, urged his colleagues to take a more deliberate pace with consideration of amendments, saying lawmakers “can’t just throw up a bunch at the beginning” before people have had time to “digest” them.

Unable to resolve their differences, lawmakers shelved plans to hold the first round of votes on five amendments Wednesday. Whether they can recover some of the comity from Tuesday will likely determine whether votes will occur Thursday.

Off the floor Wednesday, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said that he and fellow supporters of the immigration reform bill “are still on the hunt for votes” in the Senate.

NewsHour Coordinating Producer Elizabeth Summers reports that the Gang of Eight member said although he is “very confident” the measure will get the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster, more support is necessary to build momentum. “We can pass this out with 60, 61, 62,” he explained to reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, “but that doesn’t do us much good in the House.”

There is also outside pressure building on Congress to act. The Service Employees International Union went live with a new series of pro-immigration reform radio ads in Spanish. The labor union says they are spending at least $1 million on the positive campaign urging the Senate to pass the bill.

Watch Kwame Holman’s short report on the day’s activities here or at 53 seconds in below:


  • Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Wednesday that he disagrees with those who refer to the Senate immigration bill as a form of amnesty. “I will debate anybody who tries to suggest that these ideas that are moving through Congress are amnesty. They’re not,” Ryan said during a forum on immigration reform. “Amnesty is wiping the slate clean and not paying any penalty for having done something wrong.”

  • National Journal’s Rebecca Kaplan reports that Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, has decided to work with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., on a piecemeal approach to immigration reform. Labrador had previously been part of a bipartisan group of House lawmakers negotiating a comprehensive plan, but dropped out last week over differences related to health care for undocumented immigrants.

  • CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell announced Wednesday he is retiring in August after 33 years in the intelligence business.

  • The head of the National Security Agency told Congress that surveillance programs have halted terrorist threats.

  • NewsHour Coordinating Producer Linda J. Scott reports that Mary Wilson, the longtime Motown star and member of the “Supremes,” will perform Thursday during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol to honor Rep. John Dingell as the longest serving member of Congress. Vice President Joe Biden also will also be in attendance to honor the Michigan Democrat, who has served 57 years and five months.

  • Education columnist Ben Wildavsky points out that no matter how the Supreme Court rules on affirmative action this month, the decision won’t affect many colleges with not-that-selective admissions.

  • Speaker John Boehner said he will back his House Republicans’ version of the farm bill.

  • During a House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday on his bill that would ban all abortions after 20 weeks, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said that “the incidents of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.” His comments came in response to a Democratic amendment to include exceptions for rape, incest and health of the woman. The Democratic provision was defeated and Franks’ measure passed on a party-line 20 to 12 vote.

  • Democrats seized on the remarks as the latest example of the Republican Party’s “extreme” views when it comes to a woman’s right to choose. “Sadly, this is not the first time we’ve heard something like this from a Republican,” Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement, alluding to comments last fall from Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin about “legitimate rape.”

  • The GOP nominee in the Massachusetts Senate special election, Gabriel Gomez, slammed Franks for the comments. “I think that he’s a moron and he proves that stupid has no specific political affiliation,” Gomez said in an interview with ABC News.

  • “Ed’s one of you,” Mr. Obama told supporters on Wednesday at a rally for Rep. Ed Markey, the Democratic candidate in the June 25 Massachusetts Senate special election. Recent polls show Markey running ahead of Republican Gabriel Gomez, but the visit by the president signals Democrats believe the contest is still up for grabs.

  • Huffington Post gives a face and voice to those affected by gun violence.

  • Politico’s Hadas Gold writes about a new NRA ad targeting Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who was once an ally of the gun rights group.

  • The New York Times has a tough profile of mayoral candidate and former Rep. Anthony Weiner.

  • Sen. Flake apologized for his son’s Twitter feed.

  • Rookie Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., is the Republicans’ match for Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., in Thursday’s Congressional Baseball Game. National Journal’s Ben Terris has everything you want to know about the rivalry. And of course, that’s if the game happens in the wake of the derecho storm bearing down on Washington Thursday afternoon.

  • Check out George H.W. Bush’s birthday socks.

  • There’s a reason House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., had Domino’s on his 50th birthday.

  • Seriously, Australia?

  • Ben and Jerry’s is getting political.

  • PostTV announced its lineup. Relatedly, Chris Cillizza puts the new Washington Post paywall in context: It’s less than the cost of a movie ticket.


  • And as Paul Solman reports, older workers working longer is a boon for the economy.

  • Christina attended Question Period on Parliament Hill in Canada, and asks in this column, wouldn’t it be better if our own members of Congress insulted each other more often?

  • Jason Kane proves in detail why trees are important.

  • Top NewsHour officials and Gwen Ifill responded to a Baltimore Sun columnist who criticized the program.


Meena Ganesan, Katelyn Polantz and Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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