Senate Passes Immigration Bill; Now the Real Right Begins
[Note: Title is supposed to be "Fight Begins," not "Right Begins"]
Yesterday evening the Senate passed a comprehensive overhaul of American immigration policy in a remarkable bipartisan vote after lengthy debate, discussion, amendment and negotiation. The final tally was 62-36, with 23 Republicans joining 38 Democrats and Jim Jeffords (I-VT) to approve the bill. This is, for the Senate, one of its greatest achievements of the year, and is testament to the kind of workable solution that can emerge if compromise and comity are allowed to function.
Now, however, the bill faces conference with the House. I have no doubt that it would pass almost intact if submitted directly for approval; a bipartisan coalition similar in ratio to that in the Senate would almost certainly vote in favor of the bill as it stands. However, the House leadership has instituted a "majority of the majority" rule, meaning that a majority of the Republican caucus must support a given bill before the leadership will allow it to come to the floor. This prevents the kind of bipartisan cooperation that we saw yesterday in the Senate (as the WaPo points out today, if this rule were in effect in the Senate, the bill would have died), and will probably result in changes to the bill which will eliminate its comprehensive nature and probably weaken it substantially.
President Bush has an opportunity here to provide a lasting legacy for himself on this important issue. He could work as a uniter (what a concept) - and not just of Republicans - by urging the House leadership to drop its misguided "majority of the majority" rule and allow the Senate bill to be debated. However (and most unfortunately) there is no reason at this point in his presidency why the House leadership should listen to Mr. Bush, and no reason to believe that they will. He has squandered his opportunity to lead through his actions of the last six years, and even an all-out campaign from him on this seems insufficient to change the way his Administration has acted in the past.
I am hopeful that perhaps an agreement can be reached somehow that will preserve the major aspects of the Senate bill (border security, guest worker program, eventual path to citizenship). But I am also realistic, and I am afraid that the prospects at this stage seem very grim indeed. Congratulations to the Senate on a job well done, however - we saw republican government (that's small-r republican) government at its best yesterday.