UPDATE: The bill has cleared the first hurdle:
The Senate voted Tuesday to jump-start a stalled immigration measure to legalize millions of unlawful immigrants.
President Bush said the bill offered a "historic opportunity for Congress to act," and appeared optimistic about its passage by week's end.
The pivotal test-vote was 64-35 to revive the divisive legislation. It still faces formidable obstacles in the Senate, including bitter opposition by GOP conservatives and attempts by some waverers in both parties to revise its key elements.
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Immigration Plan Faces Major Hurdle Today
Today is a make or break day for the Immigration bill.
The beleaguered immigration bill makes a much-anticipated return to the Senate floor today, with some senators saying that a critical procedural vote will signal whether the legislation will be defeated or eventually clear the Senate.
If today's showdown vote - on a motion to officially revive the bill - fails to procure the 60 votes needed to pass, it will probably be the end of the road for comprehensive immigration reform this year. But if it passes, senators are predicting - some grudgingly - that it would herald Senate passage of the measure by week's end. The bill then would go to the House for further debate.
No doubt the number of faxes and phone calls to Senate offices has been staggering over the past month or so -- a well-orchestrated effort to convince the members of the Senate they'll face major repercussions in their next re-election effort if they don't vote the right way on this bill.
I find it fascinating that issues such as the war and energy independence result in a yawn from most of the conservative right, but talk about making a brown-skinned 'illegal' a US citizen -- ignoring that they are a hard-working and productive member of our society already -- and the boys in Alabama git all riled up.
The bill's opponents are forecasting its demise, claiming a steady erosion of support among senators and the American public over the past few weeks. But some of the legislation's biggest opponents did not seem confident yesterday that they would be able to prevent the bill from moving forward.
"We do still have a shot to stop it," said Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, "but it's only going to be if the American people raise the level of their voices in the next 24 hours."
Grass-roots appeals have been a key factor for several senators, whose offices have been inundated with phone calls from constituents, most calling on their lawmakers to abandon the bill.
But President Bush and several key lobbyists were also working the phones this weekend, contacting undecided senators and urging them to back the bill through the procedural motions to expedite consideration of the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may choose to deploy a procedural 'clay pigeon':
Reid might allow votes on some of the more contentious amendments before moving to the showdown vote. If the Senate then decides to push ahead toward potential passage, Reid could decide to package the remaining amendments for a single vote in an arcane tactic known as a "clay pigeon," in order to prevent senators from introducing still more amendments.
This procedural approach will require individual debate on each amendment, but limit the debate to a 30-hour period, at which time a vote must be taken on the entire measure. This tactic is nothing new, but it is normally employed to slow down the legislative process, not break a logjam.
Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) used it last year to protest a bill he complained included excessive spending. By offering and then dividing an amendment that targeted 19 items he deemed offensive, Coburn was able to insist on votes on individual projects. "It's a brilliant way to gum up the works," said Robert Dove, a Senate rules expert who was the chamber's referee for 36 years. The manoeuvre appears to be a relatively modern innovation; Dove said he first became aware of it in the early 1970s, when then-senator Jim Allen (D-Ala.), a master of parliamentary procedures, used it against a bill pushed by the then-majority leader, Senator Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) "I remember people being dazzled when he did this," Dove said. Reid's plan has its risks, chief among them further inflaming the vocal conservative opponents who have vowed to do whatever they can to kill the immigration measure.
"I've seen ideas like this really backfire. You pay a price for this kind of thing," Dove said, noting that the Senate functions almost entirely on consensus. "It can be done - I've seen it done - but it's a difficult manoeuvre."
Any chance for consensus went out the window when the good ol' boys in the south decided to fight this one to the bitter end. Today will be a major test of their ability to bully the rest of Congress, and it's shaping up to be an interesting battle.
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