In the overwhelming vote in favor of cloture, no one who has been paying attention was surprised to see Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) vote “no.” They are either stalwart opponents of immigration (even legal immigration) or are carving themselves a niche as among the most extreme darlings of the radical right wing. They are not deal-makers on this issue; they are not interested in crafting a passable bill.
Other votes take some explaining. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has no real competition back home and insists he “wants a solution.” So why vote “no”? Well, he’d like to be majority leader if the Senate flips and will need all the radicals. His vote, I am told, was never expected by the Gang of Eight beyond the initial vote to begin debate.
In interviews with me over months and years Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) has stressed how devoted he is to finding an immigration solution. He was among the most candid Republicans in criticizing Mitt Romney’s anti-immigration reform rhetoric during the campaign. But he is up for reelection and has Cruz and his minions to worry about. (He also took a great deal of blame from Republican grassroots groups for backing Charlie Crist for Senate in 2010) So he loses his vote on his border security amendment, is presented with a stronger bill on enforcement and votes “no.” He complains the new material was too voluminous to read and he couldn’t make more amendments. You can draw your own conclusions.
The “no” vote from Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), generally respected and reasoned in his decisions, is a bit more complicated. He voted “no,” claiming the E-verify system wasn’t good enough. So he prefers no e-verify system to one that isn’t quite good enough? And why, if he felt so strongly, did he not go to the Gang of Eight to make his case on E-verify as Sen. Orinn Hatch (R-Utah) did on H1-B visas? All that said, if he can get a vote on E-verify to fix what an adviser calls the “fundamental flaws” in a system which currently has a high error rate (the system fails to detect more than half of the unauthorized workers who seek verification, he says), perhaps his concerns can be addressed.
Then there is Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) who played a constructive role in the supercommittee (offering the Dems more revenue) and in trying to craft a compromise with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on gun legislation. His ostensible reason for voting against the bill was that there were not enough low-skilled work visas. It is hard to know what to make of this. Dems and Big Labor aren’t likely to agree to even more low-skilled visas nor are conservatives who’ve been nervous about the potential impact on American workers. You do have to wonder whether the pressure back home (even though he is not up until 2016) got to him. He sure does sound like he gets the arguments for immigration reform and that this particular objection is a tad artificial.
At any rate, with 67 votes in the Senate, the Gang of Eight has almost completed its work. Now the question remains whether a few more “yes” votes can be rounded up and what the House will do, if anything. Given how easy it is to come up with an excuse to vote “no,” the “yes” votes of Republicans are all the more noteworthy.