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We Now Know Who Killed the Tillis Amnesty Deal in the Senate

AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic

Sen. Thom Tillis’ (R-NC) amnesty push is dead. That might be the best political Christmas gift in years—it’s undoubtedly the best news coming from the Hill in a long time. Tillis was working with Democrat defector Krysten Sinema (I-AZ) to get millions of illegal aliens on the citizenship track. You all know the details of the poison pill stipulation in the bill. The first 2 million Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients would be able to sponsor their extended family members when they’ve completed the process. It didn’t secure the border or remove the issue from the table. It just set the stage for another mass amnesty, even for the next generation.


As this heinous piece of legislation was making its way on the Hill, where was Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), leader of the Senate Republicans? There was fear that he hoped this bill would die on the vine. No clue yet what happened behind closed doors, but as we approached Christmas—it seemed the Kentucky Republican decided to whip out the sickle and channel his reputation toward liberal action items. Reportedly, he told Sinema and Tillis that this cockamamie pro-illegal immigration legislation wouldn’t be attached to the year-end omnibus bill. That’s where this legislation passed the Grassy Knoll, back and to the left gone (via WaPo):

What happened? Tillis and Sinema were negotiating over bill text, much of which had been written, as late as Wednesday night. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) informed Sinema and Tillis that he wouldn’t allow it to be attached to the end-of-year spending omnibus bill, effectively killing it, one of the sources tells me. 

Some last-minute sticking points also arose. Some of them concerned detention issues, as well as the framework’s effort to retain temporary restrictions that barred most migrants from applying for asylum at all. The latter would have replicated the ban under the Title 42 covid-19 health rule, which a court has halted, creating expectations of a spike in efforts to cross the border. 


On the Democratic side, a few opposed this compromise because it would in some fashion stiffen enforcement in inhumane ways. They were right to raise this objection. Yet the compromise offered a real shot at making life more humane for well over 2 million people. It could have demonstrated that government can manage asylum-seeking effectively while remaining true to our core values, potentially opening political space for widening channels to more legal migration later. 

But once again, space for compromise on this issue proved extremely hard to find. Even as a real window of opportunity opened, pundits who purportedly care about these matters sat the debate out, and we all squandered too much attention on some right-wing troll named Elon Musk. Now the moment is gone.


This latest move, while appreciated, doesn’t absolve McConnell of his past sins of caving to Democrats on the anti-gun package that passed this year. Nor does it wipe clean his lethargic and phlegmatic attitude towards this year’s crop of candidates for the 2022 midterms. We all get that he wasn’t pleased, but these people all won their primaries. They deserved direct and immediate support from the national party. We can all rail more about how McConnell has screwed up, but for now—the Tillis-Sinema bill is dead.


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