Then he was on the losing end of a 13 to 5 rout.
For hard-line foes of immigration reform, the lopsided outcome produced a moment of clarity about the challenges they face in repeating their 2007 feat of scuttling comprehensive immigration legislation. Unlike six years ago, the loudest voices of dissent were drowned out by a disciplined performance from a bipartisan group of eight senators who teamed up to fight off the most serious threats to the bill.
“They announced flat out at the beginning of the process that they would rally around and defeat any amendment that would alter their agreement,” Sessions lamented of the group of four Democrats and four Republicans, known as the Gang of Eight. “The core has held, and the bill is coming forward to the floor of the Senate with not a lot of changes.”
The committee vote was only the first skirmish in a long battle ahead for a bill that represents the most sweeping overhaul of immigration law in nearly three decades, its prospects buoyed in part by Republican worries over a lack of Latino support. The legislation moves to the full Senate floor next month, where passage is likely but not guaranteed. The Republican-controlled House is negotiating its own plan, which is expected to be more conservative.
Some immigration hard-liners, while confident they will prevail, acknowledge that proponents are better prepared for the assault from the right that helped block the effort six years ago.
“It’s a testament to the other side’s greater preparation over the past couple of years,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which has opposed increased immigration. “They lined up people in coalitions more effectively. This time they were more prepared. That’s why in general . . . they’ve done better.”
Senate supporters of immigration reform think they emerged from the judiciary panel’s hearings in a strong position, adopting key amendments to help mitigate criticisms. In 2007, when a bipartisan group offered a bill, Senate leaders avoided the committee process and took the legislation directly to the floor, where opponents quickly fractured the coalition with “poison pill” amendments.
This time, heading into the committee hearings, Republican critics sought to employ sustained pressure on the bipartisan group that had drafted the legislation over months of private negotiations. GOP members produced two-thirds of the 301 amendments filed with the committee, focused largely on border security.
The goal, in many cases, was not necessarily to alter the legislation but rather to force the four Gang of Eight members on the committee — Democrats Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) and Republicans Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) — into difficult votes on issues where Democrats and Republicans are ideologically opposed.