Friday, August 3, 2007

More on last night's disputed House vote: Will House Democrats try to change the way the party deals with motions to recommit? The Hill suggests that this is a possibility; this year, House Republicans have sometimes been able to complicate the Democratic majority's plans with these motions, so leadership is concerned:

The vote, aides said, has sparked renewed discussions among Democratic leaders about changing the way they deal with the procedural votes sponsored by the minority, called “motions to recommit.”

In April, Democratic leaders asked members to vote against such motions if they actually “recommit” the bill back to committee. Such a move is often fatal to the underlying bill.

Other motions to recommit simply amend the bill and do not send it back to committee. Democratic leaders decided not to enforce party discipline on such bills, allowing members to vote their conscience.

Last night's motion would have sent it back to committee, but some Democratic Reps still supported it--19 at first, then 14 (5 switched their votes).

Democrats talked about changing the rules about these motions earlier, but Republicans "used other procedural tactics to shut down the floor until Democrats agreed not to attempt the change."

Meanwhile, the GOP is now sending around this recording in which Majority Leader Hoyer (D-MD)--according to the GOP's identification--says "We control this House, not the parliamentarian." We don't know the full context for this declaration, but, assuming that this is Hoyer, what could this release do for a Hoyer-Boehner conference on this matter? What did Hoyer say this in response to? Does this imply that he was directly involved in this vote meltdown?
Overheard at the (anonymous) Capitolist (on the Hoyer-Boehner meetings to discuss how to deal with the "meltdown" in the House last night):
No agreement in the Steny-Boehner talks. Right now it's predicted to be a late day tomorrow. With a good chance that they will be in Sunday afternoon as well as Monday.
Hmmm....reliable? What could be the resolution?
A NYT story on the attempt to move piecemeal immigration measures through Congress. The story mentions AgJOBS and includes these comments on the DREAM Act:
Another bill, also with bipartisan support, would give a path to citizenship to high school graduates who are illegal immigrants if they complete two years of college or military service. Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and a sponsor of the bill, attached it as an amendment to the military authorization legislation that the Senate last month put off until September. Mr. Durbin said he would seek to move it again then.


The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, says nearly a million immigrant students across the country could gain legal status under the bill, whose backers call it the Dream Act.

While the bill’s prospects seem favorable in the Senate, the outlook is not as bright in the House.

However, this story does have one troublesome detail:
At least 70 percent of the workers in agriculture are illegal immigrants, says the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, a national trade group.
The Pew Hispanic Center, however, released a report (based on March 2005 data) that says that only 24% of farm workers are "undocumented immigrants." In 2005, Sen. Craig and others were claiming that between 50% and 75% of farmer workers were "undocumented." So there seems to be some discrepancy here in the data...unless I'm misreading something...
WaPo has an interesting report on potential tensions in the Republican Senate caucus. It seems as though some of the divisions opened up by debate over the "grand bargain" may still be weighing on the caucus today. Lott still seems angry over the failure of the bargain--and to be directing this anger at McConnell:

Earlier this week, when reporters pressed him on his decision about ethics reform, Lott announced his opposition to the plan and then questioned whether his party had the right leadership to fight it. "After the exhibition I saw on immigration, I don't suspect there's going to be a lot of strength and dynamic leadership here, but we'll see," Lott told CongressDaily.

That was perceived as a direct shot across the bow at McConnell, who in late May agreed to push the controversial immigration reform package that was hammered out in an old-fashioned, bipartisan, back-room deal. As that immigration package unraveled in late June, McConnell changed his support on the plan and ultimately voted against ending debate and moving toward a final vote on the plan. Privately, but not very quietly, GOP aides wondered whether McConnell's vote against immigration was more about protecting his own political standing back home in Kentucky, where the immigration deal was unpopular and McConnell must stand for reelection in 2008.

Meanwhile, McConnell may be poking at (vocal "grand bargain" opponent) DeMint:

In officially announcing his position on ethics, McConnell was still smarting over DeMint's blockage of a House-Senate conference. That left Reid no option but to negotiate a final compromise with House Democratic leaders on their own, passing it out of the House and then approving the exact same plan today in the Senate. Republicans never had a seat at the final bargaining table - a point McConnell drove him again publicly today.

"This bill isn't nearly as tough as it would have been on earmarks if Republicans had been involved in writing it. But weighing the good and the bad, many provisions are stronger than current law," McConnell said. "I will support its passage."

Some roundup of information on the breakdown of decorum on the House floor last night: First, a quick summary: on voting to add a measure to the 2008 agricultural funding bill that would have prohibited "illegal immigrants" from receiving some federal subsidies for employment and rental assistance, the (Democratic) chair closed down the vote, claiming to the failure of this measure, when it seemed (to some) as though the measure had already gained enough votes to pass. This disjunction caused considerable anger. Breitbart has a good extended video of what happened after the vote.

The Politico's summary:

The rancor erupted shortly before 11 p.m. as Rep. Michael R. McNulty (D-N.Y.) gaveled close the vote on a standard procedural measure with the outcome still in doubt.

Details remain fuzzy, but numerous Republicans argued afterward that they had secured a 215-213 win on their motion to bar undocumented immigrants from receiving any federal funds apportioned in the agricultural spending bill for employment or rental assistance. Democrats, however, argued the measure was deadlocked at 214-214 and failed, members and aides on both sides of the aisle said afterward.

One GOP aide saw McNulty gavel the vote to a close after receiving a signal from his leaders – but before reading the official tally. And votes continued to shift even after he closed the roll call - a strange development in itself.

CQ provides some more details:

The floor confusion arose when, with the tally tied at 214-214, two politically vulnerable Democrats, Nick Lampson of Texas and Harry E. Mitchell of Arizona, went to the well of the chamber to switch their votes to “no.” The buddy system would prevent Democrats who voted “no” from being targeted as the deciding vote in future campaign ads. Moments later, three Cuban-American Republicans from south Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart, moved to change their votes to “aye.”

The five vote switches were called out by the House reading clerk. The two Democratic changes put the tally at 212-216. Ros-Lehtinen’s switch made it 213-215. Lincoln Diaz-Balart evened it at 214-214, but a tie vote fails. As the reading clerk called out Mario Diaz-Balart’s new vote, the Speaker Pro Tempore, Rep. Michael R. McNulty, D-N.Y., banged the gavel, apparently unaware that the second Diaz-Balart’s vote had yet to be counted.

McNulty had his eyes on the electronic scoreboard, which still read 214-214. But almost as soon as the gavel came down, the scoreboard registered Mario Diaz-Balart’s vote, pushing the tally to 215-213. The scoreboard showed those numbers and the word “FINAL.”

Within a minute or so, a flurry of post-gavel vote switches by Reps. Zach Space of Ohio, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Jerry McNerney of California — resulted in a 212-216 outcome.

It seems as though a lot of folks aren't blaming McNulty for this "meltdown." A number of outraged Republicans say that he was "trying to be fair" and did not "act in malice." Still, even as Deputy Minority Whip Cantor (R-VA) expresses his anger and some call this type of decision unprecedented, Minority Leader Boehner seems to be trying to reconcile things. CQ reports, though, that former Speaker Hastert (R-IL) was arguing very harshly with Majority Leader Hoyer (D-MD).
But to return to a paragraph from the Politico:
One GOP aide saw McNulty gavel the vote to a close after receiving a signal from his leaders – but before reading the official tally. And votes continued to shift even after he closed the roll call - a strange development in itself.
Is this GOP aide telling the truth? Who decided to give this signal? Was McNulty deliberately misled? Or did these "leaders" make an honest mistake? Or was no mistake made?
A number of Democrats ultimately voted in favor of this measure. How do they feel about it going down this way?

UPDATE 8/5: A select committee has been formed to investigate this disputed vote.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) have come together to propose an immigration enforcement bill. Among the components of the legislation:

· Requires hiring of 14,000 new Border Patrol Agents to secure the borders.

· Mandates construction of 700 miles of fence, 300 miles of vehicle barriers, 105 ground-based radars, and four unmanned aerial vehicles. Requires 45,000 detention beds.

· Contains a “Catch and Return” provision requiring DHS to detain illegal border crossers.

· Requires implementing an entry/exit system at all U.S. ports of entry.

· Requires mandatory detention of criminal aliens until removal.

· Makes illegal presence in the U.S. a misdemeanor offense.

· Makes gang members inadmissible and deportable.

· Mandates an electronic employment verification system to end hiring of unlawful aliens.

McCain asserts that this "bill highlights the steps that need to be taken to ensure the integrity of our national security and immigration system, and would provide an essential step toward achieving comprehensive reform in the future.”

The LA Times has more. One of the provisions:
The new bill does not categorize illegal immigrants as felons, as that House bill did, but it does make fraudulent use of a Social Security number a felony. Advocates fear that the estimated 6 million to 7 million illegal immigrants in the workforce would be barred from any future legalization program.
Kyl doesn't sound too optimistic about the bill's fate:
Kyl said he does not expect the bill to pass in its current form, but anticipates that lawmakers will use it as a reference, pulling individual sections to introduce as amendments to other bills.
Dan Balz has a piece in the Washington Post about how, though he thinks that the present "political climate" seems to favor Democrats in the abstract, there's still some room to doubt if a particular Democrat wins election to the presidency over a particular Republican.
Well, I jumped into the Wayback Machine and found a poll from September 1999 (closer to the 2000 presidential election than we presently are to the 2008 election):

If Vice President Al Gore were the Democratic Party's candidate and Texas Gov. George W. Bush were the Republican Party's candidate, who would you be more likely to vote for:

Bush 56%
Gore 39
Sampling error: +/-2.5% pts
And we all know that's how the results came in on election day! And as late as December 2003, Howard Dean led John Kerry (and a host of other Democratic hopefuls) 23%-4%.
All this is not to say that a Democrat will win in 2008 or that a Republican will win; nor do I wish to say that political prognostication is worthless (after all, prognostication shapes how we take actions now, which will affect political conditions down the road). But there is a lot of time left between today and the primaries--and the general election. And a lot can happen in that time. So it seems to me that neither side should get too comfortable...
Is the administration preparing for an increase in local enforcement for the employers of "undocumented" workers? Some businesses are getting anxious:

The firings comes as businesses try to avoid getting caught in a Bush administration crackdown on illegal immigrants.

The Homeland Security Department is expected to soon make public new rules for employers notified when a worker's name or Social Security number is flagged by the Social Security Administration.

The rule, as initially drafted, requires employers to fire people who can't be verified as a legal worker and can't resolve within 60 days why the name or Social Security number on their W-2 form doesn't match the government's database.

Employers who don't comply could face fines of 250 to $10,000 per illegal worker and incident.

Will this rule actually be put in place?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The NYT reports on how the present ethics bill being considered by the Senate may end the practice of anonymous holds on nominations and legislation. Background on the hold:
Technically, a hold is simply a notice from any senator that he or she intends to object to a move to advance a bill or nomination by unanimous consent — the Senate way of clearing the decks and avoiding unnecessary votes on consensus matters.
The proposed rule would require the identification of sponsors of holds after 6 days:

Under the proposed rule, any senator who instituted a hold would be required within six days after raising it to submit a Notice of Intent to Object to Proceeding that would state their name, the date, the matter at hand and the reason for issuing the hold. Any hold lifted within six Senate working days after it was placed would not have to be disclosed.

While the change would not bar holds — and its main target is the secret hold — senators say the underlying intent is to reduce the number of such objections, both public and private.

Senate opinion is divided on the matter. Sen. Wyden (D-OR) is in favor of ending anonymity, but Sen. Sessions (R-AL) thinks that holds are "good government." Proponents of this change hope that it will speed up the Senate's consideration of legislation and allow it to pass more laws.
It looks as though Rep. Abercrombie (D-HI) has a proposal on Iraq that may be voted on by the House tomorrow. The proposal
would order President Bush to deliver within two months a plan on how to redeploy troops. It will be on the suspension calendar, meaning there will be no amendments, but it needs a two-thirds majority to pass.

That bill got 24 Republican votes in the Armed Services Committee last week, but it may lose votes from liberal Democrats who have pledged not to support Iraq redeployment measures that don’t include a “date certain.”
Some proponents of withdrawal don't seem very happy with this non-binding proposal. It seems as though Speaker Pelosi--under some pressure--agreed to allow this measure to come to the floor. Both sides seem to be gearing up for a September debate on Iraq policy...
According to CQ, it seems as though the House has agreed to a provision in its lobbying bill that would allow the Senate increased power in negotiating conference reports:

The bill (S 1) would give the Senate — but not the House — the power to make surgical strikes deleting portions of conference reports.

The provision would create a new mechanism for senators to challenge individual proposals “airdropped” into conference reports without first being passed by either chamber. (A separate section of the bill would specifically deal with earmarks.)

Airdropped items have been criticized by lawmakers in both parties who say they have little recourse when provisions are inserted into conference reports at the last minute.

Rather than having to oppose the entire measure, the new tool would permit critics to challenge just the offending item, and would allow the challenge to be waived only if 60 senators go along with the waiver.

The United Arab Emirates is announcing a new campaign of immigration enforcement.
The Hill reports on some contentious Republican primaries next year for various House seats.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

In the House, some Republican lawmakers have formed a "team" to help master House rules and improve their parliamentary strategies/tactics.
An interesting WaPo story on the debate over wire-tapping law in Congress. The White House seems to back one proposal:

The proposal, submitted by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to congressional leaders on Friday, would amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for the first time since 2006 so that a court order would no longer be needed before wiretapping anyone "reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States."

It would also give the attorney general sole authority to order the interception of communications for up to one year as long as he certifies that the surveillance is directed at a person outside the United States.

But the Democratic leadership would prefer another:

Democratic lawmakers favor a narrower approach that would allow the government to wiretap foreign terrorists talking to other foreign terrorists overseas without a warrant if the communication is routed through the United States. They are also willing to give the administration some latitude to intercept foreign-to-domestic communications as long as there is oversight by the FISA court.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) suggested yesterday that a compromise could be reached this week. "The only question," he told reporters, "is how much involvement the attorney general will have" in approving the wiretapping "as compared to the FISA court itself."

There's some debate over what the details of each plan may entail--and some controversy over the role of the FISA court.
Update on the Specter legislation: Yesterday, Sen. Specter (R-PA) spoke on the Senate floor and submitted into the Congressional Record (starting with page S10230) the text of his proposed immigration "study bill" and the letter he sent to his fellow senators. The text of this bill is pretty long (it goes from S10231-S10300). You can find a full text of his remarks and the bill here.

A lot of Specter's draft seems to mirror the language of earlier proposals--except it does not include a direct "path to citizenship" for the legalized and does not necessarily shift the (extended) family-based emphasis of the current legal immigration system. But there are a lot of details, so there may be other differences. It also has a "guest worker" provision. I don't know how much support for this measure there is in the Senate, but Specter says that some responses to this proposal are "enthusiastic." CQ says that Kyl is doubtful that the Senate is that interested in reviving this type of immigration "reform," but Specter thinks there's some "momentum" for his proposals. Time may tell how much momentum there is...
The chair of the House education committee, Rep. Miller (D-CA), has two suggestions for the renewal of "No Child Left Behind": expand the standards used for evaluating schools from only standardized tests (to measures such as graduation rates and Advanced Placement passage rates) and allow in-class "performance" to affect a teacher's pay. Some think that these proposals could break Congressional support for renewing this measure.
Today, a House panel will conduct an inquiry into the influence of the Mexican government in the convictions of imprisoned Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean.
Apparently, the Mexican government is raising some environmental objections to parts of a US-Mexico fence. (H/T Bryan at Hot Air.)
Could the Republican National Committee be beginning to formally turn against the president's policy of "comprehensive immigration reform"? The Washington Times suggests it's a possibility:
So far, 47 members of the 168-member Republican National Committee have signed a resolution that unequivocally opposes the Bush-backed policy that would grant legal residency to millions of illegal aliens.


The proposed RNC resolution does not address such issues as a temporary-workers program, the issuance of "green cards" and paths to citizenship — issues that helped derail the Senate bill — but instead calls for using all means necessary to secure the borders, including the regular Army as well as the National Guard.
The WashTimes thinks, at least, that the resolution could pass:
The RNC's Resolutions Committee is expected to approve the resolution at its Thursday session at the RNC annual summer meeting in Minneapolis-St. Paul, the site of next year's Republican presidential-nominating convention. The resolution would then go to a floor vote on Friday by the full RNC membership, made up of an elected national committeeman and woman and the elected state chairman from each state and territory.

If passed, the resolution — already endorsed by state party chairmen from 14 states in the Northeast, Midwest, South and West — would put the party officially at odds with its national leadership, including a sitting Republican president, as well as the party's Senate leaders and the national party's general chairman, Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, handpicked for the office by Mr. Bush.

However, some quoted in this story say that the resolution is no "break" with the RNC's long-standing position on immigration, so we'll have to see how debate about this measure develops over the week.

So what does VP Cheney think of "comprehensive immigration reform"? He's not giving too much away in this CBS News interview, I think:

Q Last question. Who do you blame for the defeat of the immigration reform bill? Were the conservative talk show hosts responsible for that?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, I don't know that you can blame any one particular individual or group. That's a tough issue; if it was easy, it would have been solved a long time ago. The President, I thought, handled it well. I thought many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle tried to address it -- it's a serious problem; it does need to be addressed, does need to be solved. Obviously there are a lot of people out around the country who have got strong feelings on various aspects of it, and they were all heard from.

We were unable to get anything done this time around, legislatively. That doesn't mean it's dead, by any means. Still a possibility that it will -- some aspects of it may be acted upon before we leave. But one way or the other, in the next few years, we're going to have to have immigration legislation.

So, as might be expected, Cheney defends the president's handling of the question, but he doesn't say very much more either way. Rather than jumping on the "comprehensive reform" bandwagon, Cheney only says that the next few years will bring us "immigration legislation"--by which he may mean something "comprehensive" or something less "comprehensive."

Monday, July 30, 2007

In Oregon, a contractor wants Columbia County to be declared a "legal workers only" zone:

Mayo wants bright 4- by 8-foot signs reading "Legal Workers Only" to be posted across the county. The signs would list contact information for the sheriff's department and federal immigration agents.

His plan asks that the local law enforcement respond to complaints by inspecting job sites and fining those out of compliance. If signs are not displayed, fines of $1,000 a week would be imposed.

A contractor caught hiring illegal workers would face a $15,000 building-permit increase per home. Business licenses and rental licenses of those who hire or rent to undocumented immigrants could be suspended.

Mayo took his proposal to the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, who told him last week that the county was not equipped to enforce it.

So Mayo plans to let voters decide. He said he will collect the 1,300 valid signatures necessary and try to put the measure on the ballot in November or March.