Thursday, July 12, 2007

I'm going to be traveling for the next few days, so there won't be many posts until Monday or so.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Senate will be having a hearing on the fate of jailed border agents Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos on Tuesday.
Lieberman amendment urging investigation into Iranian influence in Iraq passes.
The Senate is currently debating an amendment supported by Lieberman, McCain, Kyl, Graham, and Coleman that will consider the Iranian influence on the ground in Iraq--and the way this influence may have led to the death of US service members. Kathryn Jean Lopez has a release on it.
Asheville, NC (pop. 72,000) considers increasing efforts in immigration enforcement.
More Iraq wrangling: According to the WaPo, Hagel now supports the Levin-Reed withdrawal amendment--so 3 Republican backers so far (Hagel, Smith, and Snowe). This story also speculates that the defeat of the Webb amendment may mean that opponents of the current policy in Iraq will be unable to gain the necessary 60 votes for any forced timetable (and President Bush has also declared that he will veto any measure with a forced deadline for withdrawal). However, this WaPo story ends with two cryptic paragraphs:

Reid angrily dismissed another bipartisan effort would require Bush to develop a comprehensive plan based on the Iraq Study Group's recommendations. Under that amendment, the White House would be free to adjust timetables for the removal of U.S. combat forces and the transition of the mission to training and counterterrorism.

Reid said the amendment "doesn't have the teeth of a toothless tiger."

Is this "effort" the Salazar amendment? Does this dismissal mean that Reid won't back the measure to come up for a vote?

UPDATE: Well, according to this new WaPo story, Reid is talking about the Salazar plan:

But although Alexander and Salazar have more than a half-dozen sponsors in each party, their plan was under assault from both Democrats and the White House. Reid derided the idea as weak, saying "it doesn't have the teeth of a toothless tiger."

According to this AHN report, the National Guard is now cutting the number of individuals stationed along the borders in half:

The Pentagon will cut the number of soldiers assisting the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency from 6,000 to 3,000, following a surge put in place by President George Bush last year to help combat illegal immigration and the drug trade.

President Bush initiated "Operation Jump Start" which put a mostly volunteer force along the 2,000-mile-long border with Mexico. The troops helped take care of administrative duties, freeing up Border Protection agents to keep vigil and make arrests.

The Webb amendment about the scheduling of troop deployments has failed 56-41; it needed a 3/5 majority. The 60-vote requirement for amendments to the Iraq funding bill has complicated Senate wrangling over the matter.
UPDATE: Seven R's voted in favor of the Webb amendment; according to the Washington Post, R supporters are
Hagel [(NE)], Snowe [(ME)], and Sens. Norm Coleman (Minn.), Susan Collins (Maine), Gordon Smith (Ore.), John Sununu (N.H.) and John Warner (Va.).
UPDATE: In other amendment news, Sen. Snowe (R-ME) is now a co-sponsor of the Levin-Reed troop withdrawal amendment. She had seemed leaning in the direction of this proposal yesterday.
An update on some of the wrangling over Iraq funding in the Senate. According to this story, even as Sen. Domenici (R-NM) has broken with the president, he is still unwilling to back any legislation that has firm deadlines for required troop withdrawals--though some Democratic leaders are predicting that many Democrats will support the Levin-Reed amendment, which requires the withdrawal of many troops from Iraq by a certain deadline. An alternative to Levin-Reed is an amendment (with language similar to that of S.1545) sponsored by Sen. Salazar (D-CO) and Sen. Alexander (R-TN), which would recommend the implementation of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations but not set a firm deadline for troop withdrawals. Other sponsors of the Salazar-Alexander amendment include:
Mark Pryor (D-AR), Robert Bennett (R-UT), Robert Casey (D-PA), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), John Sununu (R-NH), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Pete Domenici (R-NM), and Bill Nelson (D-FL).
However, it seems as though some Republicans (including Sen. Cornyn [R-TX]) are skeptical of this alternative or any calls for change in policy until the president offers his report on Iraq in September. Meanwhile, Sens. Lugar (R-IN) and Warner (R-VA) are working on a proposal that will be revealed after the president offers an interim report on progress in Iraq by July 15.
While Senate Republicans have shown some levels of division in approaches to Iraq policy, Senate Democrats have shown some divisions, too, with Majority Whip Durbin (D-IL) predicting that the Senate will be unable (contrary to the wishes of some Democrats) to force deadlines for a total end to Iraq military operations--at the moment, at least. And Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) has apparently not yet decided if he will support a vote on the Salazar amendment.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Prince William County (VA) passes a measure encouraging local law enforcement to help determine the immigration status of individuals held in custody and instructing city officials to try to consider ways to deny "illegal immigrants" various services. An earlier version of this proposal had a provision that would allow citizens to sue if the county were not fulfilling its obligations of immigration enforcement; the measure passed today lacks this provision.
An interesting addition to the Iraq debate: "Fairness Doctrine"-related legislation may, according to this report, be inserted into the present debate over Iraq funding:

A week after Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., Jim DeMint, R-S.C., John Thune, R-S.D., and 15 GOP co-sponsors proposed to enact a law mirroring a ban approved by the House, the senators hope instead to add the language to an Iraq war appropriations bill now on the Senate floor. A press conference to announce the plan is slated for Wednesday.

A debate and vote on the Fairness Doctrine amendment could take place by week’s end. The Senate today was locked in what could be a long debate on Iraq war-related amendments that could delay consideration of other amendments to the bill.

However, this story seems a little unclear--to me at least. Will this proposed bill merely deny funding to the FCC to implement the "Fairness Doctrine" for the next financial year (as the amendment passed in the House stipulated), or will it permanently ban the FCC from implementing the "Fairness Doctrine" (as the "Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2007"--proposed last month by Coleman, DeMint, and Thune among others and which is not yet passed--would stipulate)? The language of those paragraphs above makes it sound like maybe the former, but we'll see tomorrow for sure.
Reid's skeptical about the return of the "grand bargain" or some variant of "comprehensive immigration reform"--but he does have hope for some measures and thinks that maybe the matter could return next year. From a press conference today via Stephen Spruiell at the Corner (emphasis added):
REID: I think it's going to very, very difficult to deal with immigration this year. It won't be dealt with this year.

What I'd like to do is there are certain parts of that immigration bill that I think are very essential. The agricultural workers bill is extremely important. It was part of our overall bill. The DREAM Act is important. I'd like to do that.

So maybe what we could do before the end of the year is do some pieces of immigration. But coming here for another immigration debate on everything, it won't happen this year. Maybe next year; likely it won't happen until we get another president.
A Reuters story about the uncertainty of some in the wake of Arizona's new employer-sanctions bill.
Well, maybe arch-contrarian thinking isn't exactly all it's cracked up to be: Rasmussen now has the president at 35%, and Gallup has him at 29% (down 3 points since the middle of June).

Monday, July 9, 2007

There certainly seems to be a lot of (anonymous) unhappiness with the seeming failure of the "grand bargain"! Via Kondracke:
In evident pain and remorse, a Republican Senator confessed to a Hispanic group from Maryland that his vote to kill immigration reform was "a profile in political cowardice."
Now who could this (male) senator be?
Some "Latino advocates"--including "La Raza"--are reportedly upset at the seeming failure of the "grand bargain."
A judge has temporarily barred the town of Vista, CA from releasing the names of employers of "day laborers."
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) wants the border fence to be built faster.
Could the proposal for biometric ID cards be returning?
In press conference this afternoon, Sen. Reid lays out what he hopes to be the plan for debate on Iraq funding in the Senate. First, debate and vote on Webb amendment, which will require that soldiers have at least 1:1 ration of time deployed to time not deployed. Reid then hopes to move on to debate on the Levin-Reed amendment, which would mandate beginning troop withdrawals (though an early draft of this amendment had some provisions for presidential waivers of some requirements). It's less clear what will follow after that amendment's debate.
UPDATE: Levin's office informs me that the amendment text will be different than that of the draft mentioned above. The new Levin-Reed will be unveiled tomorrow.
CORRECTION: It's "Levin-Reed" (not "Levin-Reid," which was an earlier amendment on Iraq). Sorry about that.
Arch-contrarian spin: Could Bush be a secret winner (or at least not complete loser) of the seeming failure of the "grand bargain"? Though he seemed to want the "grand bargain" very badly and stories have focused on how this failure puts him in hardcore "lame-duck" territory, Rasmussen now has his job approval at 38%, and his disapproval is now at 60%. April was the last month where the president averaged under 60% disapproval, and April was the last month before the "grand bargain" was introduced. In the midst of the immigration fight, the president usually hung around in the 33-34% approval range, so 38% is a somewhat significant increase. Other than the failure of the "grand bargain" what else could have led to this increase? A lot of people wouldn't say the Libby commutation...Rasmussen always did say the Bush's numbers dropped when he pushed the immigration issue...of course, we'll need some more polls to see if this is a real trend or not. And maybe increased poll numbers don't make you a winner anyways...
Does Homeland Security have a "new rule" coming? In this story about the rise of local and state immigration-enforcement measures, a new rule being considered by the Department of Homeland Security is mentioned (e.a.):

A bigger threat to businesses could come from the federal government. Business groups had urged the Department of Homeland Security to wait for immigration reform legislation before it issues a final regulation outlining what steps businesses should take when they receive letters notifying them that an employee's name and Social Security number don't match federal records. Now that Congress has punted on the issue, the department may soon implement that regulation, immigration attorneys predict.

As proposed last summer, businesses who receive these "no match" letters should follow certain steps, such as checking the accuracy of their own records and notifying the employee of the problem. If the discrepancy can't be resolved within two months, the employer must fire the employee or risk being charged with violating immigration laws.

The regulation won't "let people ignore problems that have stared them in the face before," Smith said.

Many workers who have been using fake Social Security numbers will lose their jobs, but "they're not just going to pack up their bags and go back to Mexico," Reiff said.

Many will stay in the United States and work in the underground economy instead, she predicted.

Employers should prepare for increased federal enforcement of immigration laws by going through the I-9 forms that workers fill out when they're hired and see if there are any obvious problems, Smith said. Employees whose Social Security numbers don't match federal records should be told to resolve the problem "or we've got to say adios," she said.

Does anyone have any more information about this rule--like will DHS actually implement it (and when might this decision be coming down), and will it actually change the behavior of businesses?

Games: The Next Political Frontier: An interesting LAT story about how some groups are designing and producing video games and board games as a way of raising awareness about the immigration issue. Game titles range from "ICED" to "La Migra" to "Border Patrol." Consider, for example, the game "Squeezed":
Students at the University of Denver plan to release a video game called Squeezed, created with a grant from mtvU and Cisco Systems and designed to raise empathy for migrant laborers. The player takes the form of a tree-hopping, bandana-wearing frog who leaves home to seek work abroad as a fruit picker.

The fruit is squeezed into juice for the virtual economy, and the frog can either spend his juice earnings on himself or send them to family members back home. If relatives don't receive enough juice, they send bad news, the frog's "despair" meter rises and he picks less fruit.
And "immigration" isn't the only issue video games can explore. This story also mentions "Darfur is Dying" (also sponsored by mtvU), which attends to life in a refugee camp. A number of these games are available online for free, too, so you can check them out. I've tried my hand at "Darfur is Dying," and the game play is pretty straightforward (even if the subject matter is--understandably--grim).

Along with mtvU and Cisco, a number of other foundations support further research into and use of games as a political resource and teaching tool:
The MacArthur Foundation recently awarded a $1.1-million grant toward the development of a school in New York that would use games to teach core subjects. Through so-called serious video games, students can role-play and solve problems, said Connie Yowell, the foundation's director of education.

"Games can be a prototype for curriculum in the 21st century," she said.
I know Thoreau once said that "all voting is a sort of gaming," but I don't know if he had this in mind...

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Some reports from Georgia suggest that, in the wake of the state's new laws against the hiring of "undocumented immigrants," a number of such "undocumented immigrants" are leaving that state to go to states without such laws or back to their native countries. (H/T Polipundit)
Sen. Hutchison (R-TX), who opposed cloture last month, lays out her thoughts on immigration reform. She seems to present a three-sided strategy: border defense, "guest worker" program, and "dealing with" the (estimated) 12 million who are here without legal authorization:
She said the immigration issue is difficult because “We have to have a secure border and out country has not had to deal with that before,” Hutchison said. “Because we have always had a camaraderie with Canada and with Mexico and we’ve kind of gone with the flow but we can’t do that any more.

“We can’t do that because we know now that we have terrorists coming in and we have drug cartels coming in ... and then you have the illegal immigration problems, the people who are coming over to work and they aren’t criminals and they aren’t terrorists.”

Hutchison said the United States must develop a program that allows people to come here to work.

“So I am going to continue to try to have an immigration program that has three components, secure border ... a guest worker going forward that provides for businesses in our country that have jobs that are unfilled,” Hutchison said. “As I talk to businesses that are food processing, or restaurants or hotels, farmers or ranchers, they want to have a legalized process by which they can get workers because they are short-handed right now.

Hutchison said the third part is finding a way to “deal with the 12 million people who are here, and that’s been the hardest part. I think we can solve one and two because the hard part is to deal with the people who are here illegally that says we are not going to have amnesty; we are not going to have a closing our eyes to illegal immigration. ... I think we can deal with the people who are here if we have settled the other two issues.”

She said she thinks Congress will have to keep working on this. She explained that she didn’t vote for the recent bill because it did contain amnesty provisions.
In debate over the "grand bargain," attention focused on the role of the cloture vote--which sets limits on debate for a bill. The Washington Post has an interesting survey of some of the history of the cloture motion and the current use of cloture to get bills passed in the Senate. Some history:

Cloture emerged in 1917 as a way to limit filibusters, the tactic by which senators use their rights of unlimited debate to delay or block legislation.

President Woodrow Wilson, frustrated by a 23-day filibuster that stalled his proposal to arm merchant ships in World War I, called a special session to consider a cloture proposal.

The Senate, he said, is "the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action. A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible."

The resulting rule held that if two-thirds of the Senate's 100 members agreed, debate on a measure could end and a vote on passing or rejecting the proposal could take place after each senator had an opportunity to speak for another hour.

The high bar for cloture meant it was seldom used and almost never successful. Senate historians say cloture was invoked in only five cases over the next 46 years.

Over the past 30 years, however, the bar for cloture has been lowered:
Cloture rules have been revised a number of times, most significantly in 1975. That is when the threshold for ending debate was lowered from two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 senators, to three-fifths, or 60. In 1986, the cap for debate after cloture was shortened, from 100 hours to 30 hours.
And cloture's being invoked a lot more. The Senate of the 104th Congress (1995-97) set a record of 82 cloture votes. Many estimate that the present Senate is on track to surpass this record.

This story, in its mention of the Senate as being "ungovernable," may show a slightly Beltway emphasis on the importance of passing legislation--no matter what (e.a.):

"It's the only way to manage the floor," said Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley. "The alternative is to do nothing, and that's absolutely unacceptable."

Besides, [former Senate Majority Leader] Mitchell [(D-ME)] said, campaigning on a theme as obscure as a slew of failed cloture votes would be a tough feat.

"The public's view is, 'You're in charge _ you produce,' " he said. "If you don't produce, it's your fault _ even if it's the other guys who prevented you."

But didn't the Founders favor a bicameral legislature partially because that structure could obstruct bills and make them slightly more difficult to pass? Obviously, they wanted government to have some capability for vigorous action--indeed, they in part called the Constitutional convention because they did not think the Articles of Confederation allowed for a very effective government--but would they necessarily be that displeased on principle if the Senate, which was intended to be insulated from popular winds anyhow, prevented some bills from being passed? After all, by some theories, making bills more difficult to pass also makes bad bills more difficult to pass and, perhaps, makes it slightly more likely that, in coping with this difficulty, proponents of a given bill will have to make it as "strong" as possible in order to get it to pass--and making bills difficult to pass can also make it structurally harder for government to legislate to itself overwhelming power. Though this Post story calls the Senate "ungovernable," couldn't the seeming intractability of the Senate be in fact a virtue of the government from the Founders' perspective? (As George Washington is reputed to have said to Thomas Jefferson: as we put tea in a saucer to cool it, we put the bills of the House in the Senate to "cool" public passions.) Of course, the Founders could be wrong...
The NYT has an interesting roundup of some Democratic plans to approach funding for US operations in Iraq.