06.18.13

Leahy Calls On Senators To File Amendments To Immigration Reform Bill

“This legislation is far too important to be subject to needless delay”

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, June 18, 2013) –Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called on lawmakers Tuesday to allow the Senate to consider and vote on amendments to the comprehensive immigration bill that has been the topic of debate on the Senate floor since last week.

More than 130 amendments have been filed to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, yet the Senate has dispensed with just one, and will consider only a small handful of amendments later Tuesday afternoon. 

“The votes against even proceeding to this bill indicate that at least 15 members of the minority are so dug in against comprehensive immigration reform that they are unalterably opposed.  They voted against the Senate even taking up the issue,” Leahy said.  “Those few Senators should not further obstruct the 84 Senators who appear ready to go to work on this bill.  The question is whether the other members of the Republican Party will follow those who seek to delay the Senate’s consideration or whether they will work with us to pass a good bill.”

The Judiciary Committee, under Leahy’s leadership, last month considered hundreds of amendments offered by Republicans and Democrats over the course of five markups spanning three weeks.  Leahy suggested the Senate follow that same procedure and encouraged lawmakers to file their amendments by Thursday.

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, S.744
and Immigration Modernization Act
June 18, 2013

Last week we should have disposed of several amendments to the bipartisan immigration reform bill before us but in the Senate, progress requires cooperation.  Instead, we have seen objection after objection from the opponents to this legislation.  They objected to proceeding to comprehensive immigration reform and that cost us several days.   When we finally ended the filibuster and were able to vote to proceed to the bill, 84 Senators voted in favor of doing so.  The initial delay was entirely unnecessary.  It did not add to this debate.  It simply hindered the Senate’s consideration of the bill.  Opponents to the bipartisan legislation have objected to adoption of the Judiciary Committee’s substitute, despite widespread praise for how we conducted our proceedings and our overwhelming bipartisan vote to report the bill to the full Senate.     

The votes against even proceeding to this bill indicate that at least 15 members of the minority are so dug in against comprehensive immigration reform that they are unalterably opposed.  They voted against the Senate even taking up the issue.  Those few Senators should not further obstruct the 84 Senators who appear ready to go to work on this bill.  The question is whether the other members of the Republican Party will follow those who seek to delay the Senate’s consideration or whether they will work with us to pass a good bill. 

I hope the actions of the Senate during the early debate on the immigration reform bill are not a sign of things to come.  More than 100 amendments have been filed to the comprehensive immigration reform bill but over the last two weeks we have only voted once – on the motion to table an amendment that had already been defeated in Committee.  I began this process in the spirit of cooperation.  I offered an amendment on behalf of myself and Senator Hatch to strengthen our visa program for visiting foreign artists who come to perform with non-profit arts organizations.  I was then happy to give consent to Senator Grassley to set aside my amendment and offer his amendment relating to border security.  Unfortunately, when we asked for the same courtesy so that other Senators could call up additional amendments, there was an objection.  Then, when the Majority Leader offered a unanimous consent request to have votes on Senator Grassley’s amendment and others in a manner Senate Republicans have been insisting on with respect to amendments, legislation and nominations for years, the minority objected. Then when the Majority Leader later asked that a group of amendments offered by Senators on both sides of the aisle be allowed to be offered, there was objection. 

It is with great effort that we are trying to work through amendments, but like their treatment of nominations, even consensus amendments are being objected to and delayed.  We have even been unable to get an amendment by the Republican Senator from Nevada pending because there is Republican objection to his offering an amendment, which will probably pass with overwhelming bipartisan support.  It is no wonder that public approval of Congress in last week’s Gallup poll fell to just 10 percent.  At a time when so many Americans are in favor of reforming the Nation’s broken immigration system, we in the Senate should be working together to meet that demand.

The President spoke again last week about immigration reform and what is needed.  The President had with him a broad cross section of those supporting our efforts from business and labor, law enforcement, the clergy, and from both sides of the aisle.  I worked with President Bush in 2006 when he supported comprehensive immigration reform.  I urge Senate Republicans to work with us now.  Senators from both sides of the aisle worked together to develop this legislation.  Then Senators from the Judiciary Committee considered it and adopted more than 130 amendments to improve it.  Senators from both sides of the aisle need to come together now to defeat debilitating amendments and pass this legislation.

One of the procedural disputes that has delayed us is the application of what the Majority Leader has termed the “McConnell rule” to provide for 60-vote thresholds for adopting amendments.  Senate Republicans are now objecting to their leader’s own rule.  That is why the Majority Leader on Thursday took the action left to him to move forward on the bill and moved to table Senator Grassley’s amendment, which I had worked with Senator Grassley to allow him to offer and have pending. 

I believe that the Senate should not have gone down the path insisted upon by the Republican leader when he demanded supermajority votes of 60 by the Senate on so many amendments and legislation.  He has made everything subject to a filibuster standard.  I have tried to have the Senate act by a majority vote, which is the practice I would favor.  Unfortunately, the Republican leader has prevailed over and over again and Republicans have insisted on 60-vote thresholds for the adoption of amendments.  That is the rule on which they have insisted.  But now, they are objecting to that same rule on their amendments to this bill. They cannot insist upon a rule for one side and not the other.  They cannot have it both ways.  I understand why the Majority Leader has asked for the same consents on which the Republican leader has insisted for years, following what the Majority Leader has termed the “McConnell rule.” 

What Republican Senators now want is a simple majority threshold for their amendments and a 60-vote barrier for Democratic Senators’ amendments.  That is not fair.  I am ready to work with the Majority Leader, the Republican leader, the Chairman and ranking member of the Rules Committee, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and other interested Senators on reestablishing majority rule in the Senate except in special circumstances.  That new arrangement will have to follow our work on this bill and not delay or be applied retroactively to undermine comprehensive immigration reform.

With respect to the Grassley amendment that was tabled last week, I noted that it was tabled by a bipartisan majority of 57 votes.  That included five Republican votes.  The amendment had previously been considered by the Judiciary Committee and was defeated there by a bipartisan vote of two-thirds of the Committee.  It would have undermined and unfairly preempted the pathway to earned citizenship.  It would have made the fates of millions seeking to come out of the shadows and join American life unfairly depend on circumstances far beyond their own control.   I am troubled by any proposal that contains false promises in which citizenship is always over the next mountain. I want the pathway to be clear and the goal of citizenship attainable. It cannot be rigged by some illusive precondition. We should treat people fairly, and not have their fate determined by matters beyond their control.  No undocumented American controls the border or is responsible for its security.  I do not want people to move out of the shadows only to be stuck in some underclass.  Just as we should not fault DREAMers who were brought here as children, we should not make people’s fates and future status depend on border enforcement conditions over which they have no control.

This legislation is far too important to be subject to needless delay.  We should have a healthy and vigorous debate on the Judiciary Committee’s reported bill.  Central to that debate is considering and voting on amendments.  Demands for different voting standards for Republican and Democratic amendments are wrong.  It is not how the Judiciary Committee considered this legislation and it is not how the majority of Americans expect us to conduct this debate.  The tactics of last week undermine the Senate’s work on this important bill.  Those who have already decided to oppose this bill at the end of the Senate’s consideration should not dictate the work of 84 Senators who are ready to put their ideas forward. 

I call on all Senators to file their amendments to this bipartisan legislation by Thursday and to work with us to make much-needed progress on this legislation without further delay.  

     

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