Immigration Reform Could Be The Answer To The Question: Can You Govern?

By Douglas Rivlin

The fight for comprehensive immigration reform embodies what is ailing American politics. This is an issue where both parties have had a hand in its success and in its failure.  President Reagan couldn’t pass reform without Democrats and President Obama cannot without Republicans.  To borrow a line from Blanche DuBois, immigration reform has always depended on the kindness of strangers…working together across party lines.  In 2006, John McCain worked with Ted Kennedy to craft a reform bill that passed the Senate with 62 votes when the Republicans were the majority in the Senate.  Trent Lott and Barrack Obama did not vote together on many bills, but they did on immigration reform in 2007 when a different bill failed to get to the magic number of 60 votes in the Senate to cut off a filibuster and proceed to a final vote.

Both parties were responsible for the success of the 2006 legislation and both parties share some of the blame for the failure to move forward in 2007.  The reality is that as our politics become more polarized, the chances of moving forward on a bipartisan issue like immigration reform decreases, as does the ability to govern effectively, no matter which party is in charge.  For years, Democrats have argued that if there were just more Democrats in office, immigration reform would be easier.  Now we have more Democrats and still no reform.

The current political environment, and this issue in particular, presents a very basic question for Washington: Can you govern?  Can lawmakers accomplish anything on the big issues of the day?  These questions are all the more pressing given the sour mood of the electorate and an election only a few months away.  Voters say they want lawmakers to work together to solve problems.  Republicans say they want to work with Democrats to solve problems.  The Democrats, and especially the President, have staked a lot on the notion of bipartisan cooperation to solve tough problems.

So here’s the test: immigration reform.

With the Democrats in charge, their party stands to receive most of the blame if there is no action and most of the credit if there is.  I argued last week in this space that Democrats should lean into the immigration issue and push hard this year for an immigration bill.  It would help recharge the enthusiasm of Latino and immigrant voters who are not solidly Democratic but not yet definitively pushed away by Republican hostility to immigrants and immigration reform.  Fighting forcefully on the issue would help strengthen coalitions on the left among labor, civil rights, youth, faith, progressive, and business constituencies.  With the ascendancy of the teabaggers, and their associates, the immigration hardliners and absolutists, coalitions on the right are weakened as Republican Party orthodoxy embraces a “no legal status for anyone here illegally… periodinflexibility.

For Republicans, blocking immigration reform satisfies that portion of their base, but is out of step with the country and alienates the fastest growing segments of the electorate – Latino and immigrant voters. To be sure, there are a lot of Republicans that want to save their party before the anti-immigrant wing does any more damage.  They want the issue resolved and to get it off the table.  The wider the door is opened to the likes of Tom Tancredo and JD Hayworth (who is running against McCain and is as anti-immigrant and pro-deportation as they come), the smaller the GOP will be in the long-run.

Over in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told La Opinion newspaper, the most influential Spanish-language publication in America, that she thinks she has the votes to pass immigration reform ( report in English). Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois has introduced a bill to get the discussion rolling and stakeout the principles for reform.

Most people think the first real action has to come from the Senate which has lagged behind the House on almost every issue. Chuck Schumer is working with Lindsey Graham to craft a right-left bill that puts together the coalition needed for immigration reform to move forward: a majority of Democrats joined by some Republicans.  But what are the chances?  where do the votes come from to get to the magic number of 60?  A look at 2007 and 2006 shows where.

The 2007 and 2006 Senate Immigration Bills

An analysis of how the Senate voted on the 2007 and 2006 immigration bills, indicates that under the right conditions, a filibuster-proof majority is still within reach.

In 2006, 62 Senators voted on final passage for a pretty decent bill, largely based on the original McCain-Kennedy template.  It received 24 Republican votes. Eventually, it died because House Republicans, who had passed a deportation and criminalization bill in late 2005, refused to even negotiate with their Senate counterparts to iron out a final bill for the President to sign.

In 2007, Bush was weaker, McCain was running for the GOP presidential nomination, and the substance of the bill deteriorated significantly as Ted Kennedy was now working primarily with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Senator Jon Kyl.  Only 12 Republicans voted for it half as many as in 2006 – and it failed to avert a filibuster on a 46-53 vote to cut off debate (or invoke “cloture,in Senate terminology). In reality, more Senators supported cloture but pulled back and switched their votes when it was clear it would not get to 60.

Of the 62 votes for immigration reform in 2006, 44 are still in the Senate. The 2007 cloture vote provides an additional point of reference, but the 2006 bill is a better barometer because it is closer to what Senators Schumer and Graham are likely to produce.

On the Democratic side there are 29 Democrats that are pretty solid because they voted for immigration reform each time they had a chance in 2006 and 2007.  This includes Arlen Spector (PA), who is now a Democrat and Joe Lieberman (CT), who is now an Independent.   It also includes four Democrats who were not in the Senate in 2006 but voted for cloture on the bill in 2007: Benjamin Cardin (MD), Robert Casey (PA), Amy Klobachar (MN), and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI). These 29 are the core votes in the YEA column on which to build.

There are another 13 potential Democratic votes for reform, but they are less solid because they voted against cloture in 2007.  There were a number of very good reasons to be against the bill.  Senator Kennedy, among others, did not love the bill as it stood on the day it was killed.  Yet he still wanted it to pass the Senate so that it could be debated – and perhaps improved – in the House (and he was pretty confident he could kill a bad bill if things ran completely off the rails).

But even among these 13 Democrats who voted against cloture in 2007, eight voted for reform in 2006: Max Baucus (MT), Evan Bayh (IN), Jeff Bingaman (NM), Kent Conrad (ND), Tom Harkin (IA), Mary Landrieu (LA), Mark Pryor (AR), and Tim Johnson (SD), (although Johnson did not actually cast a vote in 2007, I am putting him in this category to be cautious). The other five were not around in 2006: Sherrod Brown (OH), Claire McCaskill (MO), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), John Tester (MT), and Jim Webb (VA).

Some of these names are familiar as swing Democratic votes in the health care fight, but again, eight are on the record voting for immigration reform. Taken together, these 13 Democrats are key to moving a bill forward or, alternatively, could prove that the Democrats simply can’t get anything done.  With the 12 Democratic freshmen who have never voted on immigration reform in the Senate, they should be the primary Democratic targets of pro-reform advocates and especially the President and Democratic Leadership.

So there are 29 pretty solid Democrats, eight more that have voted for reform in the past, five possibles, and 12 that are untested freshmen.  If the Democrats got them all, they would still only have 54.

Robert Byrd (WV), Byron Dorgan (ND), Bill Nelson (NE), and Debbie Stabenow (MI) voted against immigration reform in 2006 and again in 2007 and are not likely to change, although I have a lot of hope for Stabenow.  Joining her, is John Rockefeller (WV), who actually missed the 2006 vote for medical reasons and then voted against cloture in 2007, but he is not known as a fan of immigration.

And that’s why Republicans must be a part of immigration reform.

The Republicans

Out of the group of 24 Republicans that voted for reform in 2006, 12 remain in the Senate (although Specter has switched to the Democratic Party).  Six of them (excluding Specter) also voted for cloture on the 2007 bill.

Republicans that voted for immigration reform in 2006 and cloture in 2007:

Robert Bennett (UT), Lindsey Graham (SC), Judd Gregg (NH), Richard Lugar (IN), John McCain (AZ), and Olympia Snowe (ME)

Republicans that voted for immigration reform in 2006 but against cloture in 2007:

Sam Brownback (KS), Susan Collins (ME), Mitch McConnell (KY), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and George Voinovich (OH)

Of these, Graham, Lugar, Voinovich, and the two Maine moderates, Collins and Snowe, are the most likely to support a serious reform effort.

McCain has not been engaged and is not likely to play a visible role.  When pressed on the presidential campaign trail, he said he would not have supported his own bill, presumably referring to McCain-Kennedy in 2006.  However, it is hard to imagine that someone with his experience on this issue would vote against a bill if it came to the floor. Still with a tough challenge from immigration hawk JD Hayworth, it is hard to tell.

Brownback is another former pro-immigrant champion that has stepped back from the issue.  He is retiring, like Judd Gregg, and both seem to instinctively understand the immigration issue and the realistic options on the table.  Orrin Hatch, a former champion and original sponsor of the DREAM Act immigration bill, has turned more hostile to immigration reform and seems to have taken his fellow Utahan Bob Bennett in that direction.  Lisa Murkowski seems unlikely and Mitch McConnell, now the Republican Minority Leader, is a definite no.

And that’s pretty much the universe of Republicans.  There has always been a lot of hope for John Cornyn; that his positive rhetoric on immigrants and immigration would turn to positive votes, but it hasn’t happened and probably wont. Other Republican votes for comprehensive immigration reform are unlikely, but not impossible.

So, to the 54 or so potential Democratic votes, the possibility exists to draw up to about nine Republican votes.  That cracks the magic Senate threshold of 60, but there is not much margin for error.


Compared to other issues, immigration has been thoroughly debated and votes are on the record for most Senators on both sides of the aisle. The flashpoints are known and stakeholders are working to find common ground.  A broad coalition of labor, faith, progressive, business, youth, civil rights, and immigrant organizations and grassroots networks are fully engaged in the fight.

Schumer and Graham need to move forward with their bill and the President needs to fulfill his promise to fight for reform.  Republicans and Democrats have a lot to gain from action and a lot to lose from inaction.

Is it hard? No question.  But this is what they’re paid to do.  And this issue is a bipartisan road they’ve walked before.  By moving forward on immigration reform, our leaders in Washington might just be able to answer in the affirmative the question on every voter’s mind: can you govern?

Editors note- please follow Douglas Rivlin online at Twitter and Digg


30 Responses to Immigration Reform Could Be The Answer To The Question: Can You Govern?

  1. Pingback:

    +2 Vote -1 Vote +1uberVU - social comments

  2. +19 Vote -1 Vote +1Ivan
    February 18, 2010 at 8:56 am

    The Democrats must keep their promise and pass a just immigration reform. We are talking about millions of hard-working immigrants who have no rights in this country. God and history will judge us for this cruelty!

    • -19 Vote -1 Vote +1sye
      February 18, 2010 at 6:12 pm

      I’m an immigrant and my rights have always been respected. The people to whom you are referring are not immigrants – they are illegal migrants, and your failure to draw a distinction between these two groups is the root of the problem.

      Illegal migrants have the right to not be exploited or harmed in any way – that is a basic human right of all people. However, illegal migrants do not have the right to live and work in the U.S. without the explicit permission of the government, and it is not cruelty for the U.S. or any other country to control who is allowed to immigrate.

      • +5 Vote -1 Vote +1messy
        February 19, 2010 at 4:16 am

        Thats why they need to be legalize why are you guys putting to much hardship on them. lets move on and hepl this country’s economy build up together don’t be so “Cruel “. Focus on what is good not that would hurt other people they are also the same as like who are you now from where your ancestor started. May god bless you!!!

  3. +9 Vote -1 Vote +1MM
    February 18, 2010 at 10:20 am

    This is a fantastic article and a great analysis of the immigration situation past and present.

  4. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1Immigrant TV
    February 18, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Good and fair analysis of the complexity of immigration reform.

    Inmigrante TV

  5. +10 Vote -1 Vote +1David Nichols
    February 18, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Britannius I hope your maker allows you a little “Amnesty”, you are not very nice?

    For the Record:

    January 2008 = Start of the I.C.E. Deportation of hard working devoted “Humans”, many away from their Citizen children.

    January 2008 = Start of the “Worst Recession in U.S. History.”

    This is no – coincidence!

    All States that Deported or Starved away their hard working Tax Base, are now in Total Economic Disaster,and trying to Gut Government services/ raise taxes to make up for this un-beleivable Governmental Blunder!

    To: Good and Brotherhood from sea to shining sea.
    (I never see you write any thing close to Good Britanius.)

    • -5 Vote -1 Vote +1sye
      February 18, 2010 at 6:19 pm

      Yeah, immigration enforcement caused the recession. The meltdown of our financial system (which also began in late 2007/early 2008 and reached a crises in the fall of 2008) had nothing to do with it.

      The argument you’re making is absurd.

      • +4 Vote -1 Vote +1David Nichols
        February 19, 2010 at 1:20 pm

        Since the Start of the I.C.E Deportation Program in January 2008, Phoenix Az. now has approx: 30% less Tax Base, than as counted for nearly thirty years as Citizens by the U.S. Census Bureau. The State is currently gutting Government Services, and trying to raise taxes to make up for the now smaller Base.

        Besides Triggering the forclosure crash of our Banking System, and putting a massive hole in our “Real Estate Bubble”, these Immigrants now vacated dwellings have made Phoenix approx: 30% overbuilt, causing Construction and Growth to completely Halt. And causing Arizona to have the highest number of lost Construction related jobs in the entire Country.

        Yes this combined with the loss to our Country of these “Humans” Hard Labor, certainly has caused this Recession!

        The Recession started in Decembere 2007, a litle ahead of the January 2008 Start of Deportations, because many smart Immigrants packed up and began leaving a few months ahead of the up coming Law, and the start of their hard earned belongings, Vehichles, cash, and even homes being confiscated by Sheriffs Deputies, and the illgotton Booty used for things such as; (in Arizona), Sheriffs Vacations, and Large Amusement Park Parties!

        Please Research the Facts.

  6. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1MGTRRZ
    February 18, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    It is apparent-however you attempt to ‘veil’ it…what you are parading as ‘facts’ and ‘statistics’ are nothing more than a feeble
    rationalization of your Xenophobia…What continues to puzzle
    readers of commentary such as yours-‘Brittancus’-is how quick
    people such as yourselves are to denounce anyone who sug-
    gests your rants may be coming from a ‘Racist-based Mentality’-You are either in denial about it or just not ‘brave enough’ to ‘own-
    it’…There is nothing ‘Just’ about ‘Hate’. So stop trying to ‘justify it’.

  7. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1ForSolutions
    February 18, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    And that, is indeed the question to Washington: Can you govern?
    The loss of moderate Republicans has done a great deal of damage to this and other issues. They’ve been replaced by moderate Ds that are often worse across the board. What good is a majority if it undermines what you stand for? And how does it benefit the interests of the American public? Don’t mean to let Rs off the hook–can’t tell how long they will allow themselves to be seduced by a segment of the party that is putting them more and more out of tune with the rest of the population. And also making it harder for them to govern.
    At the end, we all pay for this polarization, and Congress needs to be held accountable.

  8. Vote -1 Vote +1sye
    February 18, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    The political landscape has changed and what took place in 2006/2007 really isn’t relevant anymore. I doubt the changes of immigration reform are any better now than they were in the past, regardless of any election promises that were made.

    • -1 Vote -1 Vote +1GrayRiv
      February 18, 2010 at 7:32 pm

      You’re boldly hoping things stay as they are. I’d rather see chaos replaced by order. But to each his/her own.

      • +1 Vote -1 Vote +1sye
        February 18, 2010 at 9:40 pm

        “Amnesty or chaos” is a false choice. Ignoring the immigration laws is what caused the chaos in the first place. Restoring the rule of law will also restore order. The phrase “law and order” exists because it’s true.

        • +5 Vote -1 Vote +1MdeG
          February 19, 2010 at 8:14 am

          No, it was not *ignoring* the immigration laws. The laws themselves are a large part of the problem. If you’ve been here a long time, then you may have very little idea what the system is like today. It’s bad — not just slow, but chaotic, prohibitively expensive, discriminatory. People who are undocumented now have no way of legalizing their status. People outside the country know they don’t have a snowball’s chance of getting here legally. This is a huge contribution to the ongoing arrival of folks w/o documents. The system needs to be reformed.

  9. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1michael
    February 18, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    they need to pay taxes .if they pay taxes i don t have any problem with them.Because every human wants better life for him and for his family thats undesrtandable.Just not that free so let them pay taxes and let them learn english,lets get over with thiss issue.

    • +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Amy
      February 19, 2010 at 10:01 pm

      many of them already do pay taxes! I know a guy that is here for almost 10 years, came legally and then work without work permit simply because he could not get it in any possible way because the immigration law is screwed up and he was too ashamed to live on his wive’s salary for approximately 5 years (I mean you would have to be a pussy to do that!). His wive has green card and he doesn’t. This guy pays taxes, got few thousand dollars in grant money for kids living in poor neighborhood and was a worker of the month for several times! For God sake this guy deserves citizen!!! I am for legalization of people like that. We need people like that in our country

  10. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1michael
    February 18, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    brittancus aren t you tired of submitting same writing to everywhere(copy paste ).I m tired to see same nonse everywhere.Just let you know not all americans thinks like you that include me and the other half of the country.Just wanna let you know. LIFE IS SHORT AND NO ROOM FOR HATE WWJD you could be one of this poor people.God bless even you

    • +3 Vote -1 Vote +1MdeG
      February 19, 2010 at 8:16 am

      I await the invention of a spam filter that is Brittanicus-sensitive. The name does suggest an immigrant background — and given that my folks were Brits themselves, I can tell you they weren’t all saints & they wouldn’t all be let in today!

  11. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1messy
    February 19, 2010 at 4:22 am

    Oh god. You are so smart to commment long enough about this topic. Spend youyr time effort on what is good. Work with legal/illegal immigrants to make this country better.

  12. -1 Vote -1 Vote +1David Nichols
    February 19, 2010 at 5:57 am

    I like Pepsi’s new campaign:


    Renew America.

    To: a Good and Prosperous America.

  13. -9 Vote -1 Vote +1Help Save Maryland
    February 19, 2010 at 6:59 am

    The only justice that needs to be provided is enforcement of the law. No Amnesty for lawbreaking illegal aliens. Just a good douse of the federal E-Verify program to sceen out illegal workers, federal 287g to arrest, detain and deport illegal aliens and the requirement for “legal presence” for all taxpayer funded programs and services. Game over.

    • +3 Vote -1 Vote +1MdeG
      February 19, 2010 at 8:22 am

      Nonsense! The law is a mess & needs thorough reform.

      What is being proposed is not amnesty. It’s a fine, background check, and a pass to the back of the line to get yourself legalized.

      E-verify punishes workers. I’d like to see the weight fall on the bosses who cynically exploit vulnerable people. Strong and status-blind enforcement of existing laws about wages, hours, and safety standards — and of which are routinely flouted — would undo a lot of the perverse incentive to hire the undocumented.

      287g makes a huge mess of local law enforcement. I live in the barrio. When the local cops are harassing immigrants, respectable folks stay indoors and the gangstas party. I do *not* feel safer!

      Legal presence for all taxpayer funded services. Make me laugh! Do you know that legal immigrants — here after years of waiting and thousands of dollars of expense — cannot access these services until they’ve been here for 5 years? Here in Massachusetts, a newly arriving immigrant is required to have health insurance from the day of arrival. Said immigrant is barred from accessing the state’s affordable health insurance programs unless they’ve been here 5 years. Choices left? Free care (guess who pays?) or a very inadequate insurance that’s considered “affordable” for people who make 36.000 a year or more.

      Chorus: The system as it exists today is only for the rich. This is wrong. We need reform, urgently!

    • Vote -1 Vote +1Amy
      February 19, 2010 at 10:03 pm

      What a nonsense!

      • Vote -1 Vote +1Amy
        February 19, 2010 at 10:07 pm

        That’s the comment to Help Save Meryland

  14. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Rolando Chan
    February 19, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    I believe Amnesty will benefit the economy. All the 12 Million people will come out of the shadow, pay their back taxes that would help the deficit. Hire Accountants to do their taxes. And using the taxes that they collected, gov’t can hire more people to handle their applications. This means more job. And then, these people would start a life, renting, spending like appliances, furnitures and clothing. This means economy will start to pick up. At this moment, what I see it. They are becoming thirfty, they do not want to spend anything, that is necessary. To the people who do not understand this methology. This is just common sense.

    • Vote -1 Vote +1Miguel
      February 22, 2010 at 2:18 am

      I agree… more TAX Payers, but criminals must be out!!

  15. Vote -1 Vote +1GrayRiv
    February 19, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Thanks all, I appreciate the comments, even from the people who are dead wrong. Keep coming back for more!

  16. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1RationalGuy
    February 19, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    Republicans in congress don’t want to legalize cheap labor.

    Isn’t it strange, only time they are against it is when there is something done to legalize them. They don’t care if the issue is dissolved. Hence keep the labor cheap.

    Lets look at way it is NOW, these undocumented immigrants are working here, they are living here. Nothing is going to change that. Yes there may be .00001% deportation to show on cable TV but nothing else CAN change. It’s not practical to deport 12+ million (Never gonna happen). So why not make them legal. This way they can invest money here rather than send it back to their country. They will participate in paying taxes. I do agree there should be a legal way to come here. Something should have been done after the ’86 reform. But we HAVE TO ACCEPT what’s done is done and repair the system and move forward.

    These anti-immigrant need to go to wal-mart at night see, 80% of the customers are immigrants especially hispanics. They have their carts full of stuff. They spend money, that keeps the economy going and stable.

    There are too many positive thing that could happen if the reform passes. The housing industry will gain most of its value back in first couple of years. Economy will stabalize, business will go up, Jobs will be created. Remember Jobs are created when people spend money.

    Only people who will win if the Reform is not passed are the people who in their hearts believe “We did not forgive for people who did wrong comming here, whoooah!” I do understand their feelings, but, its the RIGHT thing to pass Reform for America. (period)

  17. Vote -1 Vote +1willie
    February 24, 2010 at 2:50 am

    this is probably the best and most informative article i have ever read about immigration reform. I hope that you could furnish a copu to each every member of the legislature for a wake up call.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login