The collapse of the Senate immigration bill, shamefully consumated on Friday, was not totally unforeseen. I'm among those who publicly predicted an eventual punt from Congress.
What we didn't anticipate it is what appears to be the ignominious role played by Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid. I had written, as recently as Thursday, that it looked like his GOP counter-part, Bill Frist, was actually the guy who was going to scuttle what has been the five-year long effort to enact comprehensive reform. But then, the whole story took yet another unexpected turn. An authentic bi-partisan majority was reached in support of an imperfect but significant compromise: a bill that would liberalize and expand legalized immigration as well as grant legal status to six or seven million "illegals" already living here.
And then, on Friday, defeat snatched from victory. The whole deal collapses. And while the reasons are myriad, and while the back-room bickering may never be fully disclosed, there's a whole lot of anecdotal evidence that Harry Reid intentionally blocked the deal. There is an argument to be made that he did the right thing i.e. to "protect" the core of the bill. There's a much stronger argument that Reid simply didn't want to hand a legislative victory to an unpopular Majority Leader and his equally unpopular President. And to hell with the 7 million immigrants who might have benefitted.
This is not some right-wing conspiracy theory. You can find it in Friday's daily press briefing (not yet online) from the non-partisan but certainly Democrat-friendly and liberal leaning National Immigration Forum. Here's how the Forum describes the legislative collapse:
Why? Because the Majority and Minority Leaders couldnâ€™t come to an agreement on how to proceed on the floor. Incredible. A historic breakthrough thwarted by petty partisan bickering. Â
Thereâ€™s plenty of blame to go around. The White House could have played a stronger role, and the Majority Leader could have been more insistent on reigning in the hawks in his party seemingly intent on delaying or derailing the process. But in the end, we cannot escape the conclusion that the Democratic Senate leadership was more interested in keeping the immigration issue alive in the run up to mid-terms than in enacting immigration reform legislation. If this is not true, then we look forward to being proven wrong and eating crow. Weâ€™ll know for certain when the Senate Democratic leadership works out a process agreement with the Senate Republican leadership that enables the bipartisan sponsors of this compromise an opportunity to test the strength of their coalition in votes on the floor.â€
This Democratic punk-out, sorry to say, is something I predicted last month in the final paragraphs of this piece. So, I guess, it wasn't so unpredictable after all.
I highly recommend this excellent piece of reporting from Time that emerged Friday evening. It gives a more than fair hearing of Reid's reasoning and strategy. But reading through the piece, I reach the same conclusion as the Immigration Forum does -- that Senator Reid has a lot of explaining to do. And unless he does it well -- and soon-- he can claim responsibility for stealing away from Bill Frist the title of Gravedigger of Immigration Reform. Even fellow Democrat Ted Kennedy -- reportedly enfuriated with Reid-- publicly lamented that "politics got in front of policy."
So here we stand. The Senate now in recess for two more weeks -- putting us a fortnight closer to the November election. A second round of large scale pro-immigration rallies are scheduled for Sunday and Monday. Is anybody willing to act?
P.S. Tom Snyder, political director of the powerful hotel workers' union told the L.A. Times: "The Hispanic vote is not nearly as reliable" as people think "It's increasingly a swing vote, and if Democrats treat this issue as a spectator sport and can sit back watch, there's going to be a very bad result. Immigrants aren't stupid."