Thursday, June 20, 2013 | 11:15 a.m.
Nevada Sen. Dean Heller still won’t completely commit to being a “yes” vote for comprehensive immigration reform.
But if the Senate adopts a new compromise on border security, he can’t see much of anything that would keep him from voting for the bill.
“I think [the bill] needed this kind of an amendment, to advance the legislation,” Heller said Thursday. “I mean, clearly, there are those who won’t vote for it no matter what. But for those who were leaning toward voting, this really does solve a lot of the issues.”
Should the border security amendment pass, Heller said, he sees no deal-breakers or poison pills that could compromise his willingness to vote for immigration reform.
“The process, which nobody wants to talk about, obviously, clearly could hang this thing up. But I’m certainly hoping that’s not the case,” Heller said. “But I just hope this thing doesn’t blow up...I’m looking very favorably upon it.”
Heller voted for Sen. John Cornyn’s farther-reaching border security amendment, which would have committed several billion dollars to build up the border force and hinged the pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants on verification that the border was at least 90 percent secure.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had called it a “poison pill.”
“I liked Cornyn’s amendment, too, but obviously that wasn’t going to happen,” Heller said, explaining his vote in favor of the Cornyn amendment Thursday. The Senate voted 54 to 43 to block the Cornyn amendment from advancing.
“I supported it, but everyone knew it was too much for the other side,” Heller said. “So the art of compromise, I think, wins out at the end of the day.”
The new border security amendment, drafted by Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota, would commit more resources to hiring additional border security guards, building more areas of the fence, and expanding the radar and drone surveillance from the underlying bill.
It would not, however, make undocumented immigrants wait until all those developments were verified as complete before they would be allowed to apply for permanent residency.
There is a concern that the cost for such new undertakings could raise the overall price tag of the underlying immigration bill, which the Congressional Budget Office said this week would actually reduce the deficit by $197 billion over the next ten years and another $700 billion in the ten years thereafter.
But leading Democrats are saying that if a comprehensive immigration bill is the end goal, this is the best deal either party will get.
“The American people have sent us a message: ‘You’d better make sure the border’s secure.’ This amendment makes sure,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York. “I think it’s a real breakthrough...It solved the riddle of how we deal with border security in a way without allowing somebody in future years who is against citizenship to impede that path.”
Republicans are also fairly sure they have enough votes to deliver a strong majority for immigration reform, so long as the Corker-Hoeven amendment is part of the final product.
Corker said he believes the amendment would bring on at least 15 Republicans and that those additional votes were solid.
“And I think as we continue to address some of the issues that people have in their own state, I think that could build,” Corker said.
Fifteen Republicans, added to the approximately 50 Democrats Reid has long thought he could bring on board, would give the comprehensive immigration reform bill well over the 60 votes needed to clear any procedural filibusters.
For Heller, the critical Corker-Hoeven amendment also has an extra sweetener: His two airport security amendments are included in its language.
“One of the things that was important to me is that my other amendments were part of the bill,” Heller said. “Both of the other two amendments that I spoke about on the floor are now encompassed in this new amendment.”
The Senate on Wednesday passed Heller’s amendment to include Nevada on the Southern Border Security Commission, a body that will take over the construction of border security if the Department of Homeland Security cannot complete plans to satisfaction within five years. The vote was a decisive 89 to 9 in favor.