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September 22, 2014

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Politics:

List of amendments is last step before immigration vote, but Reid says, ‘I don’t know if we can do it’

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Associated Press

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., retreats to a closed-door meeting with fellow Democrats as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and he work to negotiate a legislative path to avoid the “fiscal cliff” on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012.

All that stands between the Senate and a final immigration vote this week are a series of amendments.

But how many? And which ones? So far, congressional leaders haven’t been able to settle that nagging question.

“The only question now is whether we can come up with a list of amendments. And I think both sides want to do that,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday. “But having said that, I don’t know if we can do it.”

The deadline for filing amendments to the Senate’s immigration bill was Tuesday at noon. But by Tuesday night, Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had not been able to agree on which of those amendments would be included on a final roster to be voted on before Thursday, when Reid is aiming to be done with the bill.

“In the last half hour or so, we went backwards rather than forward,” Reid said late Tuesday, lamenting the Senate's inability to come up with a final agreement, even after a long meeting at the White House on Tuesday afternoon. “We need to keep our eyes on the prize. Right now there’s too many amendments … but this can be done.”

Part of the problem, however, is that the Senate’s two party leaders don’t agree on what the prize is.

For Reid, the end game has always been a comprehensive immigration reform bill — not just in the Senate but also in the House, where he hopes House Speaker John Boehner will abandon his plans to strike out on his own if the Senate can deliver an immigration bill with real bipartisan punch.

“I want to do everything I can to maximize the number of votes we get on the bill,” Reid said, later adding that he blamed the “crazies” in the House — Tea Partiers in Reid parlance — for pushing Boehner away from a more bipartisan strategy.

But McConnell is showing no signs of warming to the Senate’s immigration legislation.

He and his leadership team voted against a sweeping, Republican-drafted amendment to step up border security Monday evening, a measure that senators on both sides of the aisle hailed as the heretofore missing link that would let Congress join hands across the aisle to vote for immigration reform.

McConnell cited concerns that the benchmarks in that amendment were not enough of a guarantee that the border would be secure by the time undocumented immigrants would be eligible for permanent residency.

Meanwhile, McConnell is looking to the House to deliver immigration reform.

“I look forward to seeing what the House can do,” McConnell said Tuesday.

The lack of support from Senate Republican leaders — despite the expected support of about a dozen Senate Republicans, likely including Nevada’s Sen. Dean Heller — could provide House leaders some cover. And already, those Senate leaders are complaining that Reid is steamrolling them on the procedures of the immigration bill.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who is expected to vote against the bill, speculated Tuesday that the Senate would not get to vote on any more amendments — an outcome for which he blames Reid.

But Reid is pointing the finger right back.

“The people who wrote me a letter saying we need more amendments are the same people that stopped us from having amendments the first couple of weeks,” Reid said. “Remember, I can’t have more amendments unless I have all 100 senators agree. So if Cornyn stays where he is, we won’t have more amendments.”

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