Immigration reform has had the perception of a bill that's sailing through the Senate in relatively calm legislative waters. But as it approaches the next stage of the lawmaking process, the first sign of stormy weather appeared as Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said that the Gang of Eight's immigration-reform bill currently does not have 60 votes in the Senate.
60 votes is an important number for numerous procedural reasons in the Senate. Increasing the number of senators that support the bill will be crucial if immigration reform is to be passed in the current window of time.
Senator Menendez made his comments on the immigration-reform bill on Univision during an interview with Jorge Ramos. He said on the program: “We don't currently have 60 votes identified in the Senate. We need to add more votes on the floor. That means that the community in your state, in every state, should be contacting your state’s two U.S. senators saying that they want comprehensive immigration reform, that they are going to judge their political future based on this vote. And if we do this, both in the Senate and, later, with the members of the House of Representatives, we can achieve the victory that we want.”
Given that Menendez was speaking on a Spanish-language news program, his news was less of a doom-and-gloom message of defeat and more of a call to action by Hispanic voters who support the bill. Both Republicans and Democrats have attempted to gain their support, so a push by Hispanic voters for the bill may turn some heads in Washington.
The immigration reform bill already sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan 13 to 5 vote on Tuesday. It is projected to go in front of the complete Senate either the week of June 3 or June 10. Sixty votes are required to overcome attempts at filibustering the bill, a legislative procedure that has defeated numerous bills that had a majority of at least 50 senators but were opposed by segments of the legislative minority.
However, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that he will not block the immigration bill from reaching the floor. He praised the bipartisan Gang of Eight’s work and said that he had much hope for comprehensive immigration reform passing the Senate, although he stopped short of saying he will vote for the final bill.
Menendez's comments are a curious contrast to what other members of the Gang of Eight have said on the immigration bill. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have said that they are aiming for 70 votes. 70 votes is viewed as a number that will send a strong message to the more conservative House of Representatives to act on the issue.
While many will take Menendez’s comments to be a bad sign for the bill, debate and the actual votes have to occur before we can accurately say if immigration reform has died or not. We have only started to enter this stormy sea and only time will tell if this is a tempest in a teacup or a squall that sinks the boat.