The Inside Story On What’s Happening With The Senate Immigration Bill

Yesterday, a GOP aide, who is one of my sources in the Senate, gave me the rundown on what’s happening with the Senate immigration bill (This is the same person that I talked to last week about the bill).

First off, it does look like the Senate immigration bill is coming back. The conventional wisdom seems to be that it’s going to be brought up right before the July 4th break, so that the Senate Republican leadership can try to use that as leverage to get votes (In other words, “vote for the bill or we’ll have to waste your vacation time until you do”).

This is despite the fact that the conservative leaders of the anti-amnesty movement are refusing to cooperate, and won’t give Mitch McConnell a list of amendments that they want considered. My source tells me that the reason for this is that the game has now been rigged. McConnell is essentially promising to bring the amendments up in exchange for cloture votes, but Trent Lott is publicly saying that they will strip any problematic amendments out in committee.

In other words, if the bill gets through the Senate and the House, the Democrats and the open borders Republicans will work together when the bills have to be reconciled in committee to strip out any amendments that the “grand bargainers” don’t like. Therefore, at this point, it doesn’t matter what amendments pass, because any tough enforcement provisions that slip through will be rendered toothless when the bills are reconciled.

My source also noted that the cloture vote to end debate will be the “real” vote on the bill because if debate is closed off, the bill is sure to pass. Then, what will happen is that the votes for the bill will be counted, and a few senators who are afraid that their election prospects will be jeopardized by a “yes” vote, will be allowed to vote against the bill. This enables those senators to tell their constituents that they voted against the bill, but it will still allow them to collect campaign contributions from lobbyists who have a better understanding of how things work, and know that the bill couldn’t have been passed without their support. Put another way, they get to reap the rewards of supporting amnesty while telling the voters in their home states that they opposed the bill.

My source also let me know that the White House and the Senate leadership, and Trent Lott in particular, are pushing very hard for this bill.

I asked my source to speculate on why Lott was pushing so hard, and he said that Lott may be naive enough to think that this bill might help John McCain’s presidential campaign. He told me that despite McCain’s dip in the polls since the bill hit the news, it was hard to miss the fact that the biggest supporters of this bill in the Senate, Jon Kyl, Trent Lott, and Lindsey Graham, are all solidly behind McCain in ’08.

Before we finished up, I asked my source what he thought the prospects of passage were. He stated that it is a toss up, but that the pro-amnesty side has the momentum. I asked how that could possibly be given the outpouring of anger against this bill, and he told me that a lot of moderates are afraid of being called racists by people like Michael Chertoff, Luis Gutierrez, and Fred Barnes. He also noted that the Senate has a very insulated, clubhouse-like atmosphere, and that a lot of these pro-amnesty senators seem to be more worried about getting the President or Trent Lott mad at them than enraging the voters in their states. In addition, he told me that he thinks a lot of these senators have “drunk the DC Kool-Aid”, and believe that they’re better off passing a bad bill, even one that won’t ultimately become law if, as expected, the House kills it, so that they can at least tell the voters in 2008 that they did something about immigration.

PS #1: I asked my source what his boss thinks the fallout from this bill would be. He advised me that his boss, and some of his boss’ conservative colleagues in the Senate, believe that this bill could gin up so much outrage on the right that it could lead to the GOP having an even worse year in 2008 than it did in 2006. As is, conservatives are disillusioned and unmotivated, and he thinks this bill will make things much worse if it passes the Senate.

PS #2: 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.

Note: I edited the original post to make it clear that it’s Trent Lott who is publicly saying that the GOP leadership will strip amendments out in committee.

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