In the 50-50 deadlocked Senate, all focus continues to be on passage of the infrastructure package. The bill, negotiated by senators in both parties, contains $550 billion in new spending for roads, bridges, airports, harbors, and public transit. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) plans to have the Senate version passed within the next week.
Senators are currently in the process of offering amendments to the legislation. Two Republicans each offered an amendment related to immigration enforcement and border security, but failed to reach the necessary 60-vote threshold for inclusion in the package.
Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) introduced S.Amndt. 2245, which would have prohibited the cancellation of previously-appropriated contracts for the border wall. This is in direct response to the Biden administration’s wasteful cancellation of billions in border security spending that the previous Congress already appropriated American tax dollars for. The Senate voted down this amendment by a vote of 48-49, with three senators not voting. Intriguingly, Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) voted in favor of this common-sense amendment, and was the only Democrat to do so.
The second immigration-related amendment came from Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.). His amendment, S.Amndt. 2233, would have prohibited Federal funding for any entity that fails to enroll in and comply with the E-Verify program. The E-Verify program is a free and successful online program that allows employers to instantly check a prospective employee’s I-9 form against records from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Studies show that E-Verify is effective at deterring illegal hiring and actually reduces the population of illegal aliens in states and localities where its use is mandatory for all employers.
Senator Lankford’s amendment failed by a vote of 53-45, with two Republican senators not voting for unrelated reasons. All Republicans present voted in favor of Senator Lankford’s amendment, but the proposal also attracted the votes of five Democrats: Senators Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.), as well as Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock – both from Georgia.
Senators Hassan, Warnock, and Kelly all face competitive re-election contests in swing states in 2022. But it is intriguing to note that Senators Kaine and Ossoff, who are not up for re-election, supported this measure. Further, supposed moderate Senators Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) voted against this amendment.
Did these Democrats support Senator Lankford’s amendment because they knew it would fail, or does this signal true support for the best enforcement mechanism currently available? The fact that five Democratic senators voted in favor of any kind of enforcement mechanism – especially E-Verify – is a good sign. As supporters of true immigration reform, we can only hope that it comes from genuine support of the program, and not from the desire to score cheap political points. Sadly, it is likely the latter.