Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010 | 5:50 p.m.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pledged to force at least a test vote this week on an immigration measure to put undocumented military enlistees and college students on a pathway to citizenship.
The measure, known as the DREAM Act, is one of the more popular immigration proposals to circulate Congress in the last few years, as it caters to a sympathetic set: young, high-achieving undocumented immigrants brought to the country before they turned 16.
But when it comes to immigration, popular is relative term. Reid promised to file cloture today — a procedural step that allows him to bring up the bill later this week. But when he does, he’ll need 60 votes to avoid a filibuster; and it’s not clear he’ll be able to clear that hurdle.
Lobbyists have been leaning hard on moderate Republicans, including New England go-tos Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Scott Brown, and those from high-immigrant states — including John Ensign of Nevada.
Reid is going to need a bunch of them if he hopes to pull together 60 senators because he almost certainly won’t be able to pull every Democrat on board.
Immigration issues have never split neatly along party lines. Already, senators like Bill Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas are warning leaders not to count on their support.
But despite slimming chances, Reid seems to be even more determined to make lawmakers put their name to a position while it’s still possible to get the measure past the House.
The procedural measure he files Tuesday will let Reid hold a vote on the DREAM Act as early as Thursday.
Reid has, however, made at least one tactical decision that would appear to compromise the bill’s chances of success.
He is bringing up the DREAM Act on its own — a change in tactics from before the midterm elections, when he promised to bring it up as an amendment to the defense authorization bill. The Senate never voted to take up the bill, and lawmakers never had to cast a vote on DREAM.
Stripping it away from the defense bill will make the military funding measure easier to pass, but give lawmakers on the fence fewer convincing arguments to bite the bullet and cast a controversial vote in favor of the DREAM Act.
Making matters more complicated is that with the GOP taking over the House in a month, meaning this is likely the most controversial vote on immigration that the 23 Democratic senators whose terms come up in 2012 will take before their next election. Not all come from states with as pro-immigration a voting body as Reid.
At the same time, it may be Reid’s last chance to deliver for his base, which helped Democratic senators who narrowly won tight races in the West this cycle, before his party and the president come up for another referendum. It will be all but impossible for Obama to deliver on his 2008 campaign promise to tackle immigration reform in his current term.
Hispanic voters turned out in unprecedented numbers in Nevada on Nov. 2, casting 16 percent of votes. The turnout was credited in large part as a backlash to anti-immigrant messaging from Reid’s challenger, Sharron Angle — and on a ground operation that has been growing around the immigration issue since 2008.
Democrats — especially Western Democrats in swing states — don’t want to lose that base; meanwhile, Republicans are trying to figure out how to corral it to support the GOP.