Remember the Cornyn Amendment? That would be Sen. John Cornyn's (R-TX) bare bones border security package that was supposedly the big "breakthrough" a few weeks ago. As you may recall, it offered some genuinely welcome improvements over the 'Gang of Eight' legislation, but kept the basic sequencing intact: Provisional legalization first, then a number of hard security triggers (certified by both DHS and GAO), followed finally by round two (green cards, etc) of legalization. Very tepid stuff -- but a bridge too far for Senate Democrats and certain Republicans, evidently. The upper chamber voted to table -- ie, kill -- Cornyn's plan yesterday, and it wasn't especially close:
The Senate rejected a border security amendment proposed by Sen. John Cornyn Thursday, as senators touted bipartisan agreement on a different border security package sponsored by Republican Sens. John Hoeven and Bob Corker. The Texas Republican’s amendment was tabled by a vote of 54-43. Because it was a vote to table (to put the amendment aside without debating its merits), that means the 53 aye votes were votes against Cornyn’s amendment, and the 43 nay votes were votes in favor of it. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio broke with the Gang of Eight on the amendment, voting not to table it. All other members of the Gang of Eight voted to table it.
You may be thinking, "hey, at least Rubio did the right thing this time." I suspect that's precisely what Rubio hopes you're thinking. Yes, he broke ranks with John McCain, Chuck Schumer and the rest, who decided the Cornyn amendment was a draconian "poison pill," or something. But Rubio barely lifted a finger to promote the plan and persuade fellow Senators to support it. Based on all the public information I've seen, he engaged in little-to-no lobbying to that end, choosing not to flex his considerable leverage on Cornyn's behalf. Instead, he showed up to cast the profoundly non-crucial 43rd vote for the proposal, so there's that. Superior to his 'gang' brethren's actions, I suppose, but hardly something that deserves attaboys for bravery. Come to think of it, did he get a "pass" from Schumer yesterday? Anyway, it's all cool because -- haven't you heard? -- there's been a huge "breakthrough" on this issue. Enter the Hoeven-Corker amendment, which Rubio and Schumer have praised to the hilt for its toughness on border security. How serious is it on substance? I'll let WaPo's resident lefty blogger answer that question:
In a major boost to reform, multiple reports this morning confirm that a bipartisan group of Senators, including the gang of eight, is nearing a deal on measures toughening up the security provisions in the gang of eight bill. By any reasonable measure, the compromise gives conservatives a good deal more in the way of border security. The key items, according to reports and sources, are: A doubling of the size of the border patrol, to 40,000 agents. Seven hundred miles of border fence. A requirement that the security plan submitted by the Department of Homeland Security include provisions — such as those above — mandated by Congress. All of these would be “triggers” that would have to be achieved before the path to citizenship can start. But — and this is big – the provision sought by conservatives such as John Cornyn, that 90 percent apprehension be achieved as a “hard trigger,” is no longer in the deal as a precondition for citizenship. As the Times puts it: “Republicans agreed to make the 90 percent figure a goal rather than a requirement.” The key is that additional Republicans beyond the gang of eight — such as Bob Corker and John Hoeven — appear prepared to accept this.
There's less to these enforcement provisions than meets the eye. Republicans have cagily negotiated the following: (1) A doubling of border patrol agents, plus installing new high-tech border surveillance systems. Fine by me, although the efficacy of the former metric is questionable. (2) The completion of a fence that was "mandated" and funded by Congress in 2006. (3) The assurance that DHS' plan to accomplish these things must reflect goals set forth by Congress. Item three is a tautological nothingburger. Item two is rather incredible, actually. They've managed to get Democrats to offer the massive concession of...following through on a law that already exists, but has been ignored for years. They've negotiated their way back to where Congress was seven years ago. Brilliant. In return, Republicans agreed to reduce the level of technology on the entry-exit visa system, and downgrade the '90 percent apprehension' requirement to a mere "goal." Oh, and Democrats still get mass provisional legalization without any hard triggers. (Reminder: The American public overwhelmingly supports prioritizing enforcement first, which isn't even being debated in the Senate at this point). One more thing: We're still not sure who gets the final say on whether these triggers have been adequately met. I'll leave you with a very, very important question from the Examiner's Conn Carroll. The CBO determined that 8 million of America's 11.5 million illegal immigrants will be receive provisional status, so what happens to everyone else?
But if only 8 million of the 11.5 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States will obtain legal status, what will happen to the other 3.5 million illegal immigrants? Does the Gang of Eight expect President Obama to begin rounding up 3.5 million people for mass deportations? Or do pro-amnesty Republicans expect the 3.5 million illegal immigrants who don’t qualify for legalization to self-deport? Worse, the CBO estimates that the Schumer-Rubio bill will only decrease future illegal immigration by 25 percent. Under current law, CBO estimates that the illegal immigrant population would grow 6.4 million by 2023. If Schumer-Rubio passes, CBO estimates illegal immigration will only grow 4.8 million.
That's right, according to the CBO's numbers -- which the Gang of Eight was excitedly trumpeting on Wednesday -- there will be nearly 8.5 million new and existing illegal immigrants in America even after the initial round of amnesty goes through. That's more people "in the shadows" than would be provisionally legalized by the bill. Wasn't the whole point of this endeavor to resolve this issue "once and for all" so that we won't have to revisit it again in a decade or two? That's what guys like Rubio keep telling us. As I've said repeatedly, I'm in favor of reform. I'm in favor of a fair, reasonable, and humane path to citizenship for many of the people who are here illegally. But if the proposed legislation doesn't even come close to fulfilling its ostensible central promise, it must be rejected. There's a better way.
UPDATE - According to this Politico report, President Obama personally (and privately) vetoed the Cornyn amendment.