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November 22, 2014

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Delay on DREAM Act acknowledgment of GOP standoff

Last night, the House gave the pro-immigration movement its strongest victory in decades, by passing a measure to give young, undocumented college students and military enlistees a chance to become American citizens.

Today in the Senate, lawmakers decided to wait a little bit.

This morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid deferred taking the next step on the DREAM Act — potentially to make sure that the bill doesn’t get voted down on political grounds — until next week.

It’s the one move he’s taken in the last two days that acknowledges the steadfastness of a Republican standoff Reid has been deriding as irresponsible politicking.

All 42 Republican Senators have pledged to move to block any legislative effort that is pushed forward before the Senate approves a tax extension and a long-term government budget — leading many to speculate that Reid was simply punting on a series of procedural votes he scheduled for last night and this morning.

Bills providing health care compensation for 9-11 rescue workers, giving a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment to seniors, allowing first responders to organize, and repealing the government’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy against gays serving openly in the military all went down on procedural motions that failed to muster the 60 votes that necessary to avoid a filibuster.

The motion to table DREAM Act spared it from a similar fate.

Why the special treatment for an immigration bill that’s been kicking around Congress for almost a decade?

It’s not clear. The issue does play heavily with Hispanic voters, who turned out in record numbers to cast ballots that helped put Reid over the top in a tense midterm election a few weeks ago.

The Hispanic voting bloc is the newest critical piece of the Democrats’ base, and the DREAM Act represents the last likely chance to do anything about legalizing the status of undocumented immigrants for a while.

Supporters — mostly Democrats — erupted into cheers when the House passed the DREAM Act by a vote of 216-198 Wednesday night. Once the GOP takes over the House in January, there probably won’t be many pro-immigrant bills coming to the floor.

But on other fronts, cooperative Republicans hoping to see progress railed against Reid Thursday for failing to take the Republicans’ ultimatum seriously.

“I am extremely disappointed that the majority leader walked away from negotiations in which we had engaged and which were going well,” Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins said Thursday after the Senate fell short of 60 votes on a motion to take up the defense authorization bill. “He prematurely held a cloture vote that he knew would not succeed. I just don’t understand that decision.”

Perhaps he was hoping for more gestures like that which came from Collins. The vote was 57-40 — including Collins, who in an unprecedented move, broke her promise to oppose any legislation that moved before the tax debate was completed and voted to proceed.

Sen. Joseph Manchin of West Virginia — who was seated just a few weeks ago after winning the election to fill the seat vacated when Sen. Robert Byrd died — was the lone Democrat vote against it, a sign that he’s not ready to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, and Collins both promised Thursday that they had the 60 votes — or even 61 or 62, Collins said — to pass a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which they now plan to bring to the floor as a separate measure.

Reid, who asked to be listed as a co-sponsor, has promised to “Rule 14” the measure, which means that it can be put on the Senate calendar almost immediately (Rule 14 bills still have to marinate for two days before any votes can be taken).

Nevada’s Republican Senator, John Ensign, hasn’t announced his vote on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal. He has only said he will consider it after the tax issue is done.

He’s not expected to support the DREAM Act.

So it appears the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal and the DREAM Act are set to rise again — and isn’t it ironic?

Once upon a time in September, lawmakers, led by Reid, were convinced that the only way to pass a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the DREAM Act was to attach them to an annual bit of must-pass legislation: the defense authorization bill.

Now, it seems likely that for the first time in almost 50 years, the defense authorization bill won’t pass, but the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal and maybe even the DREAM Act will.

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