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Reid's Secret Immigration Deal

June 18, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) let the immigration bill die once before. But now that it’s coming back, he’s trying hard to make sure that it passes.

I reported last week about a deal he had brokered, guaranteeing 22 senators a vote on their amendments in exchange for their votes to end debate on the bill. When Reid pulled the bill from the floor last time, it was because the vote to end debate was rejected by a margin of 15 votes, meaning that the bill’s opponents had successfully filibustered it. Having these 22 votes could very well be enough to approve the debate-ending motion, and once the bill is beyond this hurdle, it is almost certain to win the final vote on passage. Here is how Reid is planning to fulfill his end of the deal:

>Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would revive the bill to legalize as many as 12 million unlawful immigrants late this week. To do so, though, he needs backing from 60 senators, and a way to guarantee votes on a tentative list of 22 Republican and Democratic amendments whose consideration is seen as vital to satisfying key waverers.
>The so-called clay pigeon is how he’s expected to do it, under a strategy that was still taking shape Monday.
>The tactic gets its name from the target used in skeet shooting, which explodes into bits as it is hit. In the Senate, an amendment is the target, and any one senator can demand that it be divided into separate fragments to be voted on piecemeal.
>Under the tentative plan, Reid as early as Friday would launch his target – an amendment encompassing all 22 proposals – and shoot it into its component pieces. The Senate would then vote on ending debate on the immigration measure, which would take 60 votes and limit discussion of the bill to 30 more hours. After that interval, all 22 amendments would have to be voted on, with little opportunity for foes to interfere.

I became aware of Reid’s deal from a post on The Capitolist, an anonymous message board for Hill staffers — you need a Capitol Hill IP address to post to it. The deal wasn’t picked up by any mainstream media source, and I haven’t heard Reid or anyone else speak of it publicly. Blogger Ezra Klein was the only other person (to my knowledge) to mention it. Presumably he heard about it from the same source. The above-quoted AP story says that Reid sees consideration of the 22 amendments “as vital to satisfying key waverers.” They don’t say that Reid is satisfying part of a secret arrangement that guarantees votes from the 22 “key waverers” in return. But the fact that he is pulling out such a rare maneuver to ensure the amendments get voted on seems to confirm that the deal does in fact exist. This will be only the third time in Senate history that the clay pigeon procedure has been used.

Reid’s efforts to pass the immigration bill represent a change of heart. Several signs indicated that he was complicit in killing the bill the first time — check out the exchange The Politico observed between Reid and Senator Byron Dorgan (D, ND), the author of the “killer amendment” that sealed the bill’s demise. So why is he now making deals to help bring the bill back and make it pass? John Hawkins of Right Wing News asked the opinion of one of his inside sources, a GOP Senate aide:

>Another question I had for my source was whether he thinks Harry Reid wants this bill to pass. He replied that he thinks Rush Limbaugh is right, and that Harry Reid would prefer to see this bill go away. As evidence for that, he pointed to Reid bringing Byron Dorgan’s killer Amendment back three times. He also said that if Reid had really wanted the bill to pass, he would have kept it on the floor for another 2-3 days. At this point though, he said that Reid is probably content to let it come back because after the President’s high profile lobbying, he can pin the blame for the bill on Republicans.

The Senate will take up the immigration bill again once they are done working on an energy bill, probably on Thursday or Friday.

UPDATE: The AP has the numbers: “Sixteen of the two dozen amendments the Senate will consider attaching to a revived immigration bill come from senators who helped derail the legislation earlier this month.”

Like I said above, the vote to end debate on the bill failed by 15 votes last time. Having these 16 “no” votes turned into “yes” votes almost certainly mean that the bill will move beyond this hurdle. Once it is past this vote, the bill will most likely be passed by the Senate — the vote to end debate require 60 votes to pass, but the vote on passage only requires 50.

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