Reid Maneuvers as Immigration Measure Faces Uncertain Fate

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks to members of the media after the weekly Senate Democratic Policy Committee luncheon January 14, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Reid said he hoped the Senate can vote on the $1.1 trillion spending bill on this Friday. 
National Journal
Michael Catalini
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Michael Catalini
July 29, 2014, 5:59 p.m.

The fate of an emer­gency spend­ing bill aimed at ad­dress­ing the in­flux of chil­dren across the south­ern bor­der as well as money for Is­rael and do­mest­ic wild­fires looks in­creas­ingly un­cer­tain, even as Sen­ate Demo­crats look to wring some polit­ic­al ad­vant­age out of the stale­mated is­sue.

With the Sen­ate pre­par­ing to hold a pro­ced­ur­al vote Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon on Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Mikul­ski’s $3.57 bil­lion spend­ing re­quest, Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans are balk­ing at the bill and Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id is taunt­ing House Re­pub­lic­ans by sug­gest­ing he would add the Gang of Eight’s im­mig­ra­tion pack­age if House Speak­er John Boehner lets a $659 mil­lion meas­ure pass his cham­ber.

“If they pass that, maybe it’s an open­ing for us to have a con­fer­ence on our com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form,” Re­id said. “They are fi­nally send­ing us something on im­mig­ra­tion. Maybe we could do that.”

The com­ments are a sign of just how far apart the cham­bers are and how neither the Re­pub­lic­an House nor the Demo­crat­ic cham­ber has pub­licly shown any will­ing­ness to reach a deal be­fore leav­ing town for five weeks on Thursday.

Re­id’s sug­ges­tion is a non­starter in the House, with Boehner rul­ing out put­ting such a meas­ure on the floor and call­ing Re­id’s tac­tics “de­ceit­ful and cyn­ic­al.” Re­id pro­posed the idea as a way to force a dif­fi­cult vote on Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans, two dozen of whom had voted last year for im­mig­ra­tion re­form, ac­cord­ing to a seni­or Demo­crat­ic aide.

Ap­pend­ing that re­form bill is a “lead­ing” op­tion un­der con­sid­er­a­tion, the aide said.

Re­id may want to put Re­pub­lic­ans in a tough spot, but he’s also safe­guard­ing the po­s­i­tion of the White House, which does not want to see any policy changes.

Oth­er Demo­crat­ic lead­ers were less strident than Re­id.

“I’m du­bi­ous that they can get a bill through right now,” said Sen. Chuck Schu­mer of New York, the No. 3 Sen­ate Demo­crat. “Look, I think Mikul­ski’s num­ber is the right one.”

Ad­ded As­sist­ant Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Dick Durbin: “Here’s the real­ity: I don’t know that the Re­pub­lic­ans can pass any­thing in the House.”

Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers of the Gang of Eight who helped pass the im­mig­ra­tion re­form bill last year shot down Re­id’s sug­ges­tion un­re­servedly.

“I think that is com­pletely im­possible to en­ter­tain right now with a crisis,” said Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Car­o­lina. “Bad idea. You’ve got to build con­fid­ence back in the Amer­ic­an people. Show people you can fix this prob­lem.”

But the Sen­ate has its own prob­lems passing any­thing, which can work to Re­id’s ad­vant­age. Be­cause 60 votes are typ­ic­ally re­quired to pass le­gis­la­tion, Re­id routinely blames Re­pub­lic­ans for block­ing key bills. In some re­gard, he’s right.

Minor­ity Whip John Cornyn of Texas, who wrote a bill with Demo­crat­ic Rep. Henry Cuel­lar of Texas, wants to see lan­guage in­cluded in any emer­gency fund­ing bill to change the 2008 law that Re­pub­lic­ans say caused the in­flux of chil­dren from Cent­ral Amer­ica in the first place. Durbin ruled out the pos­sib­il­ity of any amend­ments on that mat­ter, and Re­id shot down the Cornyn-Cuel­lar bill last week.

“I think the House has been the more re­spons­ible body here by com­ing up with a bi­par­tis­an solu­tion, al­beit slim­ming down on the pres­id­ent’s re­quest, and a policy re­form that might ac­tu­ally solve the prob­lem,” Cornyn said. “I think it would be good if the Sen­ate would take its cues from the House.”

But there are also some Demo­crats who op­pose the Sen­ate bill. Sen. Mary Landrieu—who faces a tough reelec­tion race in Louisi­ana—is one. Landrieu is skep­tic­al about giv­ing money to the State De­part­ment, which the Sen­ate bill would do, and also raised ques­tions about which fed­er­al agency would over­see the ef­fort on the bor­der.

“Harry Re­id can de­cide wheth­er what’s good for the caucus, what’s good for the coun­try,” Landrieu said. “I just think from the per­spect­ive of the people I rep­res­ent, it’s hard to send that much money down to the bor­der when we’ve already sent bil­lions and bil­lions to the bor­der for se­cur­ity without a co­ordin­at­ing en­tity.”

Still, Demo­crat­ic lead­ers are hop­ing to pass Mikul­ski’s bill, which in­cludes $2.7 bil­lion for the bor­der crisis—a bil­lion dol­lars less than what Pres­id­ent Obama re­ques­ted—to­geth­er with $615 mil­lion for wild­fires in West­ern states as well as $225 mil­lion for Is­rael’s Iron Dome mis­sile-de­fense shield.

While law­makers con­test the money for the bor­der crisis, there’s broad sup­port for Is­rael. Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell is op­tim­ist­ic that the Sen­ate might shave off the fund­ing for Iron Dome and pass it sep­ar­ately. There’s less eager­ness for the wild­fire fund­ing, however.

“We’d rather keep them to­geth­er,” Durbin said. “But a num­ber of people have talked about sep­ar­at­ing them out.”

Said Re­id: “I’m per­son­ally com­mit­ted to mak­ing sure we do something with Iron Dome.”

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