After easily clearing the initial hurdle of passing through the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Gang of 8 bill broke through the filibuster with a whopping 82 votes. To put that in perspective, many were saying only a week ago that the bill would not pick up 60, the number required for cloture to circumvent a filibuster. Others, like Sen. Schumer (D-NY), were hoping for 70 votes that would help to put some inertia behind the Senate bill, and send a strong message to the House. With 82 votes, those like Ted Cruz (R-TX) who voted against cloture will look increasingly fringy and unrealistic, further damaging the GOP brand with Latinos as the bill moves forward.
Tuesday, the U.S. Senate debated the Gang of 8 immigration bill that has garnered so much press lately. Not only did it break the 60-vote threshold to proceed, but also far surpassed expectations. Sen. Kaine delivered a speech on the history of immigration and DREAMers on the floor with smooth Spanish, Sen. Cornyn (R-TX) spoke of how he wanted tougher "trigger" requirements and Obama delivered a pro-immigrant speech while introduced and surrounded by DREAMers: for those hooked on immigration politics, it was a very big day.
Although the bill did very well, it still had its critics. While many criticized but voted for the bill on both sides, some Senators like Ted Cruz still voted to filibuster. Cruz has earned himself a reputation as a fringy, right-wing glory hound, and strengthened this perception with an over-the-top speech claiming that the immigration bill would not help our "broken" immigration system: "This bill will not fix the problem and, indeed, it will exacerbate it."
Ted Cruz was not alone: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala) spoke out and voted against the bill, as did Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sens. Inhofe (R-OK), Vitter (R-LA) and a few other Republicans joined them, while 3 Republicans abstained and the rest (including every Democrat) voted for.
Perhaps the most important Republican, the Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) summed up the GOP attitude towards the bill: "Todays vote isn't a final judgement on their product as much as it is a recognition of a problem, a national problem, one which needs debate." Although he is right that this vote was not the final one, it helps to further illustrate the support for and resistance to the bill. It also reminds us that that some Republicans have very few Latinos in their constituencies and upcoming primaries (i.e. Sessions, who only has about 4% percent Latinos) or are right-wing glory hounds (Cruz).
It also illustrates, however, that many more senators than we initially believed are open to immigration. After all, what reason would Sen. Cornyn have to vote for cloture other than to leave himself the option of voting for the bill later? If he was going to go for a full-on Ted Cruz sidekick position, he should have voted against cloture to give himself a more consistent record.
Does this mean that every senator who voted for cloture will vote for the bill? No, ultimately it depends on how far right the bill is allowed to drift: somewhere out there is a magic line which, once crossed, will bring enough Republicans over in the House that it will succeed. Where this line is, I'm not sure, but I do know that it exists and is being moved by the one-sidedness of this vote.
How has this line come about? It is simple: the GOP lost the last election because it failed in minority outreach, especially amongst Latinos, though it often communicated itself poorly to Asians over the same English-only and "self-deportation" it alienated Latinos over. Since then, the leadership has learned that it needs to appeal to minorities much better than Romney's "Mad Men" campaign. The leadership of the Republican Party is now desperate to regain those Bush-era numbers amongst Latinos, and knows that it can because Latinos have not yet cemented their identity as a bloc vote.
The immigration bill is the first chance for the parties to rebrand themselves since the election AND the horrible public miscarriage of legislating that was the background check vote. Between now and 2014, there may not be another chance for anyone to make a strong impression. If they fail, the anti-immigrant sentiment may cement itself in a narrative for Latinos and Asians which steers them away and lasts a generation.
Republicans should follow Boehner, Rubio and the rest of their leadership to whole-heartedly take advantage of their last chance to prove they can legislate solutions to the worst problems which our government faces today. Right now, the public has very little confidence in them, and they do not get opportunities to turn it around every day.