Immigration Reform in a Republican Controlled Senate, Pt. 4

Any realistic numbers by which Republicans would gain control of the Senate would still leave the relative weight of the parties rather close to each other. That means that getting Republican legislation passed, including immigration legislation, will not be easy. That includes real immigration reform.

As I’ve noted in several previous entries (see herehere, and here), the actual number of Senate Democrats, coupled with the 14 Republican senators who voted for the Democratic bill in 2013 (going forward, likely 12), will make it hard to pass real immigration reform even if Republicans win control of the Senate.

Leverage will have to come from additional legislative resources. The most powerful starting point is that the Judiciary Committee has primary jurisdiction over immigration and its chairman, if Republicans win, will be Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). It is not only that Sen. Grassley has a substantially different view of immigration reform than the current chairman, Sen. Leahy (D-Vt.), although that is true. Sen. Leahy voted for the 2013 Senate bill, as did every Democratic senator; Sen. Grassley voted against it.

Equally important as his views is that, as chair, Sen. Grassley would have a substantial impact on the direction the committee takes regarding any possible legislation. What hearings will be held? What subjects will they cover? What questions will be analyzed? Who will be invited to speak to them?

In these basic ways, Sen.. Grassley can be profoundly instrumental in allowing a second, alternative immigration narrative to develop and have its chance, as it has not had before, in the public arena.

Yet, there is another absolutely central power that the chairman has and that has to do with the so-called “bill markup”. A key element of the chairman’s power is this:

A committee markup is the key formal step a committee ultimately takes for the bill to advance to the floor.Normally, the committee chair chooses the proposal that will be placed before the committee for markup: a referred bill or a new draft text. At this meeting, which is typically open to the public, members of the committee consider possible changes to the proposal by offering and voting on amendments to it, including possibly a complete substitute for its text. (Emphasis added.)

So, turning to the membership of the Judiciary Committee, one can assume that the most senior Democrats like Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose staff actually substantially wrote the 2013 Senate immigration bill, would stay on the committee. And let’s further say that under a Republican chair, Schumer would calculate, plausibly, that an immigration bill introduced by a Republican would have a better chance to be selected for markup, debated, and then sent to the Senate floor. Playing that angle, he enlists the aid of the very like-minded 2013 Gang of Eight Republican members of the committee, Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) or Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.).

That seems like a smart procedural move, and it would be, except for one thing: the Senate’s rules.

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