GOP dissenters contribute to immigration deal’s collapse

Senators pledged to resurrect the immigration compromise and engaged in finger-pointing Friday over who was to blame for the bill's sudden demise.

After the Senate rejected cloture Thursday night, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he has no intention of bringing it back before next week's debate on an energy bill and a no-confidence vote for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Republican negotiators expressed frustration with a group of conservative "dissenters" who failed to come up with a finite list of amendments that would bring the debate to a close.

"If they don't come up with a list, and you go on to energy and Gonzales, then the trail gets a little cold," said Judiciary ranking member Arlen Specter, R-Pa., one of the negotiators. Reid said the dissenters would never cooperate in bringing the debate to a close. "They're crying wolf. This is what they've been saying for days: 'The list, we'll give it to you tomorrow.' There's no list," he said.

A leadership aide said Reid was prepared to move forward with a lengthy list of germane amendments, but he was frustrated by objections from Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. A GOP aide said Reid's desire to take up the partisan attorney general matter after the bipartisan immigration debate poisoned the well for many Republicans who wanted a final vote on the immigration bill.

"Reid wanted to yank this thing," the aide said. Reid has scheduled a vote on Gonzales for Monday afternoon.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl of Arizona said Friday the debate was cut off prematurely. "Leaders don't simply say, 'I've had it. Our members are not behaving responsibly, we're moving on to some other piece of business,' if you have something before you that is historic in its importance."

Kyl was the only member of the core negotiators who reached the "grand bargain" on immigration to vote against Reid's cloture motion. He said that vote was one of the toughest of his career, reflecting his competing roles as a grand bargainer and third ranking Republican.

After the vote Thursday, Kyl said he had agreed to go along with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., to protect the minority's rights on amendments. "I very much do want to bring this to a close," he said. "And it's so frustrating to me because it didn't have to be this way. We could've so easily, if we had just planned a little better, communicated a little better, gotten the amendments out, and been done with it."

Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., declined to elaborate on Reid's reasons for insisting on a floor vote after McConnell asked to push the cloture vote to Friday. "It was complicated because of the circumstances that we were facing yesterday afternoon," he said Friday. "I personally believe that if we had taken more time, we would have had an opportunity for reaching a conclusion. What's important is what the leadership said last night, that we're coming back and that we're going to take the time to sift through these amendments."

A Kennedy aide said lawmakers are negotiating to pair Republicans amendments with Democratic ones should the bill resurface. The amendment strategy also includes an overall "manager's amendment" with language proposed by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., on H-1B visas and employer-based green cards as well as changes to two amendments adopted by the Senate on guestworkers and confidentiality rights for illegal immigrants.

In the House, aides said Friday that the game plan for an immigration debate is undecided. With a Senate-passed bill, the House strategy had been to pass a bill by August. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., "has said all along that the Senate must act first on comprehensive immigration reform," an aide said.

An aide for House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said that without a Senate bill, it is much harder to force the issue in the House.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
X CLOSE Don't show again

Like us on Facebook