How Portman put himself in a corner

As of this moment, there will not be any consideration of additional amendments on immigration reform. The final vote will likely occur at 3 or 4 p.m. today.

Sen. Rob Portman (Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) last night blocked the E-Verify amendment that would have earned the vote of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). That said, Portman had opportunities all along the way, as did others voting against their bill, to raise amendments. A Gang of 8 staffer points me to a Politico report as the most accurate explanation of how things occurred:

The Gang had worked for about a month, negotiating and fine-tuning Portman’s language aimed at tightening new requirements for employers to verify the legality of their employees. Graham, GOP Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democratic Chuck Schumer of New York, all lobbied Portman to add his language to their bill.

“We would have liked to have added Portman,” [ Sen. Bob] Corker said.

But Portman had to pay a price: He had to vote for and co-sponsor the Gang’s bill, GOP aides familiar with the situation said.

Portman wouldn’t commit to voting for the immigration bill even if his E-Verify language was included as part of the Corker-Hoeven package. So Senate negotiators dropped the Portman language from Corker-Hoeven, putting its future on an uncertain path.

I spoke to Portman spokesman Jeff Sadosky a short time ago. He contends that Portman was asked to support the immigration bill “sight unseen” in exchange for his amendment. By the end of last week, however, Portman and others had the full language, so why not make the deal then?  “Well, he was not comfortable with other provisions in Corker-Hoeven,” Sadosky said.

When I pressed him on the point that including his amendment at any point before the cloture vote could have gotten Portman’s amendment into the bill, he replied, “He felt very strongly it couldn’t be slipped into the bill. It needed its own vote on the floor.” He argued that it needed bipartisan support and would otherwise fall out of the bill in the House. But of course he would have had 70 votes for a bill that included this measure; now it isn’t in there at all.

Could he sign up if the bill came back to the House with his E-Verify? “He’s hopeful that is the case.” And he vowed that Portman would work hard to push the E-Verify measure while the bill works its way through the House.

I asked multiple times whether Hispanic groups who had been talking to him had communicated their disappointment and anger. He repeated, “Everybody agrees on the need to reform our immigration system.” But have they expressed anger? Are they disappointed? Sadosky declined to answer that directly.

One of those Hispanic Republican pro-immigration activists, Ana Navarro, told me today: “I am deeply disappointed, as are many of his other friends. I can understand people who are vehemently opposed to immigration reform and legalization, voting against this bill. I can’t understand how Rob, who supports the issue, is a big thinker, has great empathy for immigrants, understands how urgently the party needs to repair relations with Hispanics … I just don’t understand how he couldn’t get to yes.”

I don’t, either.

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