Immigration Reform in a Republican-Controlled Senate, Pt. 5

The best path to real immigration reform in a 2015 Senate narrowly controlled by Republicans — as many as 13 of whose likely GOP members voted for the Democratic immigration bill in 2013 — is through the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

The chairman can set the direction of the committee and frame the specific issues it will address and hold hearings on, but he can do much more. He can choose which immigration bill will be brought before the committee for debate and markup.

Supporters of the 2013 Senate immigration bill who serve on that committee — including its author, Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and his Republican “Gang of Eight” counterparts Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) — would, it seems fair to surmise, be supportive of having the committee reconsider the 2013 bill, or something very similar to it. They can, and might, even prepare such a bill and hope to introduce it.

However there is one more crucial thing that the chairman of a committee has control over, with great implications for real immigration reform: “The chair of a committee usually exercises control over the committee’s markup schedule as well as the agenda for markups.” More importantly, “A committee must choose one text as the basis for its markup, and in practice choosing this vehicle is the prerogative of the chair.”

So, let’s say some of the other likely members of the post-election committee — like Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), John Cornyn (R-Texas), or Ted Cruz (R-Texas) — also have their versions of a real reform bill ready or agree to go with a composite of their specific efforts. Sen. Grassley could select a possible composite or a single bill to bring up for markup and that would be the bill that was debated, voted on, and reported to the full Senate for a vote, or not.

Just to be clear: The path to real immigration reform in the Senate, if Republicans gain control, is through the chairman and his prerogatives to frame the debate, select the bill that will be worked on, oversee the markup process, and arrive at a bill that can be voted out of committee and onto the Senate floor.

This, of course, assumes that Republicans are paying attention to immigration reform.

recent article in the Wall Street Journal, noted that Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was trying to find common ground among the Senate Republican caucus. Among the topics mentioned were deficit reduction, tax reform, and a replacement for Barack Obama’s signature health law. Also mentioned were reworking the tax code and overhauling entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid to save the government money.

Immigration reform was not mentioned, but it should make someone’s list.

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