Monday, June 24, 2013 | 2 a.m.
The fate of the Senate's immigration bill likely comes down to a vote today. If it fails, it will all but guarantee that immigration reform is dead. If it passes, it will all but ensure a clear path to the finish line in the Senate, which has struggled for years to find a compromise on the controversial and emotional issue.
The pivotal vote is on a border security compromise chiefly drafted by Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota.
“The offering of this amendment is a turning point,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday. “We’ve always known there would be large numbers of Democrats to support final passage of this bill in the Senate. But this amendment gives us a real chance of getting a very significant number of our Republican colleagues.”
The Corker-Hoeven amendment introduces a number of extensive — and expensive — border security provisions: It doubles the number of border security troops on the U.S.-Mexico border, doubles the amount of fencing that the country will build along that border, increases spending on border surveillance and requires an electronic entry-exit system to track visa overstays at U.S. international airports and seaports.
Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, a self-described “skeptical Republican senator,” helped write the section of the amendment that mandates the entry-exit system.
“All along, the border security language in the existing bill has been a concern for me and many of my colleagues,” Heller said Friday. “This proposal is a realistic and measured approach that will finally solve one of the most difficult problems facing our broken immigration system. ... It may also be just the fix this bill needs to pass the Senate.”
There remain, however, many senators — mostly Republicans — who remain highly skeptical of the border security amendment, as well as the underlying bill. Senators such as Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky are likely too tough an audience to bring on board.
But Schumer and the chief Republican authors of the bill estimate that with the amendment, they will have more than 60 votes for the bill, and that figure could rise to 70 — a goal that not too long ago, Majority Leader Harry Reid would have thought impossible.
“I always thought we could pass the bill … but no one other than (Schumer) thought we could get 70 votes,” Reid said Friday. “I have watched a lot of things on this floor. ... To see this could take place is remarkable.”
Despite his enthusiasm, an optimistic Schumer cautioned Friday that the Senate has many other amendments to work through before the deal is done. Its goal, however, is still to finish the immigration reform bill before Congress adjourns for Independence Day.
The House has yet to come up with a bipartisan plan to counter the Senate’s plan. House Speaker John Boehner has maintained he will not take up the Senate’s legislation — or try to pass a comprehensive bill that can’t win a majority of House Republicans.
But supporters in the Senate think a strong finish could change the stakes in the House.
“I believe a large bipartisan vote in this body will wake up our colleagues on the other side in the House,” Schumer said.