When the Gang of Eight immigration bill passed the Senate on Thursday, the gallery erupted in chats of “yes we can” as the 68 Senators who supported the bill backslapped their way around the chamber in celebration.
The 32 Senators who opposed the bill were nowhere in sight. They had fought the good fight and, for the time being, they had lost.
The final vote was staged with maximum drama reserved for historic occasions. On the orders of the Majority Leader, all 100 senators were seated at their desks for the roll call. Vice President Joe Biden presided in his role as Senate president.
The vote came at the end of three weeks of Senate floor debate, weeks of consideration by the Judiciary Committee, and months of drafting the bill.
Fourteen Republicans joined 52 Democrats and 2 independents to support the bill. Thirty-Two Republicans opposed the bill. (Senators McCain and Flake supported the bill.)
The Gang of Eight – four Democrats and four Republicans – were the stars of the immigration reform effort and the bill’s chief salesmen. At the last minute, they had to share the spotlight with Republican Senators Bob Corker and John Hoeven who produced a border security plan to help pass the bill.
Nevertheless, it was the Four Heroes of the immigration reform debate – Grassley, Sessions, Lee, and Cruz – who never faltered in telling the truth about the bill. All members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, they unsuccessfully introduced amendment after amendment to strengthen the bill.
For the record, remarks by these four Republican Senators delivered Thursday are worth considering as testaments to their efforts and the overall failure of the bill to meet expectations.
Senator Chuck Grassley
“I came into this debate with an open mind, with the goal of offering amendments to improve the bill. Unfortunately, the majority never allowed the fair and open process that we were promised. I still hope that if Congress sends a bill to the President it will be something I can vote for – a bill that secures the border before illegal immigrants are legalized, that fortifies interior enforcement, that strengthens criminal law, and that protects the American worker. We need to send a bill to the President that will make America stronger, make our border more secure, and make our immigration system more effective.”
Senator Jeff Sessions
“The legislation adopted today guarantees three things: immediate amnesty before security, permanent future illegal immigration, and a record surge in legal immigration that will reduce wages and increase unemployment. There will be no border fence, no border surge, nothing but the same tired illusory promises of future enforcement that will never occur. Americans have begged and pleaded time and again for Congress to end the lawlessness. But this amnesty-first bill is a surrender to lawlessness.”
Senator Mike Lee
“The bill we have before us today is an enormous disappointment. The American people deserve better. As a matter of public policy, this bill fails to meet many of the goals we set out to meet. It is full of promises to beef up border security, but makes no assurances. This legislation cuts out the American people by cutting out any congressional oversight. It remains grossly unfair to those who have languished in our current legal immigration system, unable to get answers for decades in some cases. It transfers enormous authority and discretion to the Executive Branch, exacerbating an already widespread problem in our federal government.”
Senator Ted Cruz
“Unfortunately, all of the concerns that have been repeatedly raised about this bill remain: it repeats the mistakes of the 1986 immigration bill; it grants amnesty first; it won’t secure the border; and it doesn’t fix our broken legal immigration system. The bill doesn’t solve the problem because the process it went through was fatally flawed – it was written behind closed doors with special interests; in the Judiciary Committee, the Gang of Eight and Democrats blocked all substantive amendments because of a previously cooked deal; and on the Senate floor, the majority blocked any attempts to fix the bill.”
The immigration reform debate now moves to the House; the work of the Senate is finished. Voters will long remember the fourteen Republicans who supported the Gang of Eight bill that provides legalization first and security second. And they are sure to remember the Four Heroes who helped to lead their Republican colleagues in rejecting a bill that puts politics above the national interest.