News from last night of a deal reached by labor unions and businesses on a guest worker program for immigration reform had many pundits - including myself - saying that the Senate was poised to pass the legislation in the next couple of weeks.
Not so fast, says Senator Marco Rubio:
Marco Rubio, the leading Republican on the Senate's Gang of Eight immigration reform team, has sent a strongly-worded letter to Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, warning against an expected Democratic effort to rush an immigration bill through the committee. Specifically, Rubio suggests -- in wording that is actually more than a suggestion but less than an outright demand -- that Leahy hold multiple hearings on the Gang of Eight proposal, once it is actually written and introduced in the committee.
"I am aware that the Judiciary Committee, both under your leadership and under the leadership of your predecessors, has conducted a number of hearings related to immigration reform," Rubio, who is not a member of the Judiciary Committee, writes. "I am certain that those hearings deepened your knowledge of these issues and will guide much of your work this Congress. But they cannot be a substitute for fresh hearings to consider specific legislation as part of a national conversation."
Rubio's letter reads like a direct response to Leahy's letter last week to Republican Judiciary Committee member Jeff Sessions, who has complained about a hurried consideration of the Gang of Eight bill. In that letter, Leahy suggested that hearings held on a failed immigration reform proposal in 2006 and 2007 would suffice for the committee as it considers the new bill, which has still not been finished. Sessions and four GOP colleagues on the committee had also suggested that the committee hear from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who has expressed strong opposition to Republican plans to make increase border security a "trigger" for reform.
"I cannot urge strongly enough that [discussion of the bill] start with meaningful hearings," Rubio said. "Of particular importance is a full consideration of border security proposals, including testimony from border security experts, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and others. A key feature of our bipartisan approach has been an insistence on meeting border security and other enforcement triggers before unauthorized immigrants can apply for permanent residence. But the success of these triggers will require examining what the American taxpayer's commitment must be in order to make this security plan a reality."
President Obama and Senator Leahy are worried that any consensus reached by the Gang of Eight might fall apart quickly if the bill isn't rushed to the floor. Rubio is saying better that happens than passing a bad piece of legislation.
The Republicans are not likely to get their Judiciary Committee hearings. Leahy is set to ram immigration reform through, even if it's on a partisan basis. And while Harry Reid negotiates with Mitch McConnell on the number of amendments that can be offered and probably a time limit on debate, Democrats will move the bill to a vote as fast as they can.