Tuesday, May 08, 2007
The senators in this room usually have little use for one another.
But day after day, in some corner of Capitol Hill, the Senate's most conservative and liberal members sit around wooden tables or among fireside couches and grope for a consensus on overhauling the nation's immigration laws.
There are enforcement-first senators from border states, a famously liberal senator, a Hispanic senator from Colorado who calms illegal immigrants at Sunday Mass and a middle-of-the road Republican who tries to keep them all talking. At times, their only common denominator is the deadline next Monday to start debate on an immigration bill.
"It is a head-scratcher of a group," said Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum, an umbrella organization of pro-immigrant groups. "Last year, there was this little core group of reformers and they met every morning at 8 a.m. It made total sense."
But this year, the unusual cross-section of players and the secretive nature of the process have left activists and other senators wondering what exactly is being agreed upon and whether one side will ultimately yield too much ground to the other.
Bills aren't typically written this way. [no they are not!] Not with senators and Cabinet secretaries personally negotiating for weeks on end. Not with the finished product slated to move straight from the bargaining table to the Senate floor, bypassing committee review, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to do.
A sense of mutual political necessity is keeping everybody at the table -- for now.
President Bush needs a domestic policy achievement, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress must show that they can solve problems.
"This process is either going to work or we won't have a bill," said Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.).
[Get the phones and faxes ringing off the hook folks so we can defeat this!!]
A dynamic as intricate as the issue itself has formed inside the negotiating room.
The skeptics are border-state Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas, who faces reelection next year. They emerged as lead opponents of the bill that passed the Senate last year, arguing that it lacked a workable enforcement system that would stop the flow of illegal immigrants. This time around, they are key players trying to act as counterweights to the Democrats but not yet convinced they will sign onto a compromise.
"There are a number of folks in our caucus and from the House side that are worried that we will repeat the mistakes we made in the past," Cornyn said. "That is one of the reasons why we have been meeting. Sen. Kennedy recognizes that unless people like Sen. Kyl and I are involved, he is never going to get a critical mass of Republicans." [Looks like we need to get the calls going to Kyl and Cornyn from now till we defeat the bill ]
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) is the pro-immigrant point man who co-authored the bill derided last year by Kyl, Cornyn and others as essentially an amnesty grant for 12 million undocumented workers. Whenever Congress wades into immigration, Kennedy said, he "rereads my brother's book for inspiration," referring to the late President John F. Kennedy's "A Nation of Immigrants."
"We face a critical choice -- between a future as a nation of immigrants or a future measured by higher walls and longer fences," Kennedy said last week. "We need to do all we can to create strong bipartisan support for this approach." [ cough.. you forgot to mention the LEGAL word here Kennedy ]
The bridge between the two sides is Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter [grrrrr.. what a RINO! ], one of the Senate's most liberal Republicans and the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, who shepherded the bill last year as chairman. With Kennedy's blessing, Reid has asked Specter to act as the de facto chairman.
"I have tried to move the process along," Specter said. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) isn't participating in the negotiations, "so in a sense, the gavel has fallen to me."
[Specter will be in Wayne, PA on May 18th and we plan to protest the crap out of this event ]
The supporting cast is rounded out by senators like Martinez, [La Raza traitor! ] the Republican National Committee chairman who has the ear of the president; Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), [Mr "shut the bigots up" ] a proxy of sorts for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), an architect of last year's bill who has been consumed by his presidential bid; and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who proposed a two-step approach that requires border-security provisions be in place before anything else can happen. Republicans like the idea, and the bipartisan group tentatively agreed to put it in the bill.
Then there's Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), a Hispanic whose family founded Santa Fe, N.M., in 1598. He said that he wants to be involved in major policy discussions and that immigration affects Colorado "in a major way." He hears from farmers and ranchers and the corporate business community, but also from undocumented workers.
"They come to me at church and they tug at my sleeve and wonder whether we are going to be able to help them out," Salazar said. "Some of them live in constant fear. Families and fathers and mothers wonder whether they will be around the next day." [ where or where is my violin??? ]
He said the perspective gives him a deeper understanding of any bill's impact, "probably more so because of the place I come from, the people I know." [ so you hang out with illegal aliens? Good to know ]
The mix of negotiators with opposite views has bred skepticism -- and squabbles. They differ over the grounds for citizenship for the 12 million undocumented workers, the terms of a guest-worker program and the merits of "chain migration," which allows legal residents to sponsor relatives to come to the country. [ chain migration = suicide for the US ]
It got so tense two weeks ago that a meeting among staff members ended with a Republican walkout. The senators decided they needed to be in the room from that point forward, and they returned a few days later to negotiate.
Electoral politics, however unspoken inside the negotiating room, also weigh heavily. Neither side wants to be tagged as granting amnesty to the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. [ that's right because you will put a big political bull's eye on you if you do! ] But at the same time, Democrats are reluctant to alienate Hispanics, a reliable constituency [who are mostly illegal??? ], and some Republicans believe the party's treatment of immigration reform could broaden its appeal to minorities. [ how about taking care of CITIZEN minorities ??? ]
If talks break down, Reid will bring up an immigration bill of some kind by Memorial Day, just not the compromise that Republicans and Democrats had hoped for. Fifteen GOP senators signed a letter to Reid, urging him to allow a week to review a bill before voting, but that request went unanswered.
So for the next week, at least, Specter will try to keep the immigration group talking. [and we need to be calling his office every day!]
At meeting time, senators and their aides file into a conference room at the Capitol or a Senate office building, grim-faced and toting dog-eared law books and accordion folders.
They move through subject areas one by one. No votes are taken, just frequent temperature-taking to figure out whether they have consensus.
"You sort of sense it," Specter said. "When I sense we pretty much have an agreement, I say, 'Let's move on.'"
NO AMNESTY FOR ILLEGAL ALIENS EVER - DO YOU HEAR US????
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