Immigration reform foes count on House to kill the bill

The introduction this week of a robust border security amendment to the Senate's immigration reform bill is likely to ensure its passage in that chamber, opponents conceded Sunday, expressing hope that the more-conservative House of Representatives will able to kill the bill when it lands in the lower chamber.

Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., unveiled a "border surge" plan on Thursday that, if adopted, would dramatically increase the resources devoted to border security under the Senate's immigration bill. The proposal would double the number of Border Patrol agents from 20,000 to 40,000, spend billions of dollars on enhanced surveillance equipment for the border, and double the amount of border fencing required by the bill, from 350 to 700 miles.

Crucially, the proposal would also require all the enhanced border security elements to be in place and operational before undocumented immigrants can receive a green card and begin trekking the path to citizenship.

In light of that amendment, foes of the comprehensive bill admitted, the bill is likely to pass the Senate, but it may yet falter in the House.

"It will pass the Senate, but it's dead on arrival in the House," said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on CNN's "State of the Union."

Paul said, while he's "all in favor" of immigration reform, the "border surge" unveiled this week would not guarantee border security because it does not provide Congress an opportunity to verify its implementation.

"I think reform should be dependent on border security first," he said. "Without some Congressional authority and without border security first, I can't support the final bill... To me, what really tells me that they're serious would be letting Congress vote on whether the border is secure."

"The House is much closer to me," he added.

"The bill will pass" the Senate, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a staunch supporter of immigration reform who helped draft the Senate bill currently under consideration, on "Fox News Sunday."

"We are very, very close to 70 votes," he explained. "The Hoeven-Corker Amendment I think gets us over the top."

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who opposes the bill in its current form, agreed - though he wasn't as enthused about it as was Graham.

"I think it is likely to pass and I think it may well be along the margin Senator Graham suggested," he said, appearing after Graham on Fox.

Deriding the "border surge" as a "provision few people have read and ever fewer understand," Lee argued, "We have to look to the fact that the pathway to citizenship begins basically on day one, but it will take many, many years, if not decades, to fully implement all these border security measures."

And that may be a problem when the bill reaches House Republicans. "The House of Representatives has said border security first," Lee said. "They are doing exactly the right thing."

Defying the emerging consensus that the bill will sail through the Senate with strong bipartisan support, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said on CBS' "Face the Nation" he's not convinced the "border surge" amendment means the fight is over in his chamber.

The bill "had 70 votes last week, and then all of a sudden, it started sinking when people learned more about it," he said. "If people find out this amendment does not accomplish what the sponsors believe it does, I think the bill could be back in trouble again."

One House Republican voiced concerns about the sheer size of the bill, arguing that the House would be more inclined to support a piecemeal approach that breaks the reform package into digestible bits.

"We don't do big things very well in Washington, so I think it's better to break it apart, do smaller pieces, have a heavy debate about it," said Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Penn. "I don't understand the rush. We saw what happened in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Any time you rush anything through that big - this was up to 1,100 pages - I doubt that anybody's really read it and been able to really get through...every piece of it."

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, a supporter of immigration reform, expressed hope that a strong, bipartisan vote for passage in the Senate would ease the task of reform proponents in the House.

"It's got to pass with strong momentum in the Senate to have a chance in the House," he said on ABC's "This Week." "So that's really a precondition. If it does that, I actually think it has a good choice. I still believe that we can pass it in 2013."

Castro did highlight one potential roadblock, however, saying that if House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, insists on having a majority of his caucus in support of the bill before he introduces it on the floor -- an informal custom known as the "Hastert rule" -- it could well be defeated.

"It will not pass if [Boehner] uses the Hastert rule," Castro predicted.

But Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., another member of the group that drafted the Senate immigration bill, argued on CNN that Boehner would not be able to avoid bringing the bill to the floor, Hastert rule be damned.

"I believe we'll be in the neighborhood of 70 votes by the time the vote occurs at the end of the week, and I do believe that having a significant number of Republicans will change the dynamic in the House," he said. "There will be huge pressure on Speaker Boehner not to block immigration reform because that would consign the Republican Party to minority status."

"At the end of the day, Speaker Boehner will have to bring a bill, either the Senate bill or something much closer to it than people think, to the floor," Schumer explained, "even if it means abandoning the Hastert rule. He will have no choice as the pressure mounts over the summer."

  • Jake Miller

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