On Thursday, the Senate rejected a last-minute Republican effort led by Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) to scuttle President Obama’s current and future efforts at immigration reform.
If successful, the move would have prevented President Obama from taking executive action on immigration reform, and would have sunsetted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gives millions of young undocumented immigrants a two-year reprieve from deportation and work authorization.
The move involved a complicated aspect of Senate procedure.
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Sessions wanted to offer anti-immigration amendments to the continuing resolution, a piece of legislation passed on Wednesday by the House that would fund the federal government through December 11 if also passed by the Senate.
But Senate rules limit the number of amendments that can be offered on any particular piece of legislation. So majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) used a procedure called “filling the amendment tree”—offering the maximum number of amendments so that there was no room for any others. Sessions moved to table Reid’s amendment tree, but the Senate defeated his motion in a 50-50 tie. Fifty-one votes were needed to pass it.
By rejecting the Sessions motion, the Senate averted a possible crisis—the House and Senate needed to agree on an identical continuing resolution to keep the government funded. Disagreement between the two bodies over whether to include the anti-immigrant provisions in the bill could have led to a government shutdown.
The Sessions motion was political as well as ideological. It forced vulnerable Democratic incumbents into a potentially difficult vote heading into the last few weeks of a re-election campaign that will likely feature Republicans portraying Democrats as “pro-amnesty” for supporting programs like DACA.
Five Democrats, four of whom face difficult re-election fights this November, joined all 45 Republicans in voting yes: Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). All but Manchin are up for re-election this year, and this vote could give them some political cover on the campaign trail while still giving Reid the exact number of votes he needs to squash the anti-immigration amendments.
The Senate passed the final version of the continuing resolution by a vote of 78 to 22.