In the last few days a strange thing has happened in Washington DC: actual governing, marked by reasonable debate and compromise. The Senate, led by Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter, Sen. Ted Kennedy, Sen. John McCain, and others has worked hard to move forward a comprehensive immigration reform bill - if you'd like to read the text of the 600+ page Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (S.2611), you can do so here
After coming to a stalemate before their latest recess/vacation (which I commented on here
), the Senate has heeded President Bush's call for action and has acted to move the bill forward. The Senate has acted on a number of amendments in recent days, including ones that appeared to be the source of the pre-Easter recess controversy. The Senate approved two somewhat controversial amendments, one that approved the construction of 370 miles of fencing along the border (sponsored by Sen. Jeff Sessions) and the Cornyn-Kyl amendment which would deny those who have committed a felony or 3 misdemeanors from moving down the path toward citizenship provided by the bill. Attempts to derail the essence of the reforms, most notably by Sen. David Vitter, who repeatedly echoed the sentiments of his GOP colleagues in the House by referring to this comprehensive reform as mere amnesty, were ultimately defeated.
Via AP, regarding the Vitter Amendment:Vitter led the drive to strip from the bill a provision giving an eventual chance at citizenship to illegal immigrants who have been in the country more than two years. His attempt failed, 66-33, at the hands of a bipartisan coalition, and the provision survived. In all, 41 Democrats joined with 24 Republicans and one independent to turn back the proposal. Opponents included the leaders of both parties, Sens. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Harry Reid, D-Nev. Thirty-one Republicans and two Democrats supported Vitter's amendment.
As for the fence provision:The vote to build what supporters called a "real fence" as distinct from the virtual fence already incorporated in the legislation was 83-16. The fence would be built in areas "most often used by smugglers and illegal aliens," as determined by federal officials. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., estimated the cost at roughly $3.2 million per mile, more than $900 million for 300 miles.
The provision includes a call for construction of 500 miles of vehicle barriers, adding to a system currently in place.
It marked the first significant victory for conservatives eager to leave their stamp on a measure that looks increasingly like it is headed toward Senate passage.
Construction would send "a signal that open-border days are over. ... Good fences make good neighbors, fences don't make bad neighbors," Sessions said. He said border areas where barriers are in place have experienced economic improvement and reduced crime.
"What we have here has become a symbol for the right wing in American politics," countered Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. He said if the proposal passed, "our relationship with Mexico would come down to a barrier between our two countries."
All Republicans and more than half the Senate's Democrats supported the proposal. A core group of bill supporters who have held off other more serious challenges in the past two days made little attempt to fight this one, judging it far less damaging than the attack on the citizenship provision or an attempt on Tuesday to strip out a guest worker program.
This is what happens when we compromise
, kids. Its about the give-and-take. If a fence is important enough to convince enough Republicans to move the bill forward, then build a damn fence. The fact that the Sessions proposal garnered the support of 83 Senators is quite significant. For the record, the Cornyn-Kyl Amendment passed 99-0.
It's no secret that approval ratings of Congress as a whole are quite low. Part of the reason for these low ratings is the perception that Congress does nothing
. It's certainly heartening to see such progress being made on such a vital issue. That being said, this battle has just begun. Should the Senate's bill pass, as it appears it will, the Conference Committee charged with 'working out the differences' between House and Senate versions of legislation will have a virtually impossible task. House Republicans refuse to address the totality of the immigration issue and will not support a perceived amnesty. The President's plan and Senate legislation fall under the amnesty umbrella for House GOPers.
What's important to note here is that this is not a mere cabal of hard nosed conservatives in the House that oppose the President--its the leadership and other high ranking Republicans:
:"I understand what the president's position is. I have made it pretty clear that I have supported the House position," said House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).
Via AP:"Regardless of what the president says, what he is proposing is amnesty," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. the lawmaker who would lead House negotiators in any attempt to draft a compromise immigration bill later this year.
House Majority Whip Roy Blunt has also been a vocal critic of the President's position and Rep. Tom Tancredo has become a mainstay on cable news programs discussing his opposition to amnesty.
The open defiance of the House led Karl Rove to pay a visit to House Republicans today (I thought he was stripped of his policy duties??), via The Hill
:White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove went into the lion's den yesterday, calling on House Republicans to rally behind an immigration plan that many of them oppose.
The meeting, however, was cordial, according to congressional GOP officials who attended. Rove characterized the meeting as "hopeful, optimistic and positive."
The White House political guru kept his remarks brief during the Republicans' regular Wednesday-morning conference meeting, expanding on the five points that President Bush laid out in his prime-time television appearance Monday night, members and aides in attendance said yesterday.
Rove spent much of his time explaining the particulars of the president's plan to expand security along the border and did not remain long enough to answer many questions.
Again, the activity in the Senate is encouraging. Republicans and Democrats have actually come together to address a serious issue. That being said, the most important work will occur in Conference. I for one am not at all convinced that a good, comprehensive bill will come out of the Conference Committee. If I were advising the President, I would at least suggest vetoing legislation that does not address the immigration issue comprehensively. He has put his neck out on this issue and should show some balls. He shouldn't settle for a weak bill simply because House Republicans are feeling particularly audacious.