Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pushed a vote to postpone consideration of the DREAM Act, giving the Senate a chance to take up the House version of the bill next week and hopefully pick up a few Republican votes in the meantime. Without the support of at least a handful of Republicans, the DREAM Act doesn’t stand a chance. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) is one Republican who has supported the DREAM Act in the past and has indicated he will continue to do so up until the end of the lame duck session when he will leave the Senate after being stripped of his party’s nomination earlier this year.
In his final conference call with Utah reporters today, Bennett suggested that not all hope is lost if the DREAM Act doesn’t make it to President Obama’s desk at the end of the year. According to Bennett, at least some Republicans are talking about proposing a modified DREAM Act themselves “early” next year:
I know a lot of my colleagues are not happy to vote for it and I don’t think the votes are there to pass it in this Congress. As I talk particularly to my Republican friends, I’ve said, “we really need to do this.”
Their reaction has been to me privately, “You’re right. we do really need to do it. We don’t like the specifics of the bill that’s come out of the House. [...] But we agree that once the Republicans control the House, the Republicans have the responsibility to write a bill that we would vote and send it over and we — at least the Republican senators I’ve talked to — we think if we get a DREAM Act worded the way we like, we would vote for it and we want to do it early next year.”
It’s my hope, I don’t expect it, but it’s my hope that we can do it this year. If we can’t, it’s my hope — perhaps a little bit stronger — that we can take care of it next year.
If what Bennett says is true, the logic behind the Republican thought process doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Several Republicans have voted in favor of the DREAM Act in the past but have turned their backs on it this year — regardless of the fact that the wording has been pretty consistent for several years. (Actually, Reid introduced an even more conservative bill last week that addressed Republican concerns).
GOP opposition to the DREAM Act doesn’t seem to be about wording. My suspicion is that it’s driven by a few concurrent motivations. First of all, most Republican obstruction has more to do with a commitment to blocking anything that’s perceived as being part of the “Obama agenda” — even if it was supported in the past. Secondly, many conservatives are facing nativist pressure at home and are being pulled by right-wing factions of the Republican party.
Lastly, even if a few Republicans reach across the aisle and help pass the DREAM Act in 2010, it will be a victory for the Democrats in terms of the Latino vote. In fact, I suspect that’s a big reason why Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) dragged his feet on immigration reform all year until he completely flip-flopped on the issue this past summer. If this is the case, it makes sense that GOP senators who supported the DREAM Act under a Republican President would feel more comfortable about a bill coming from a House controlled by their own party.
However, the problem is it probably won’t. With Reps. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Steve King (R-IA) in control of the House Judiciary Committee and Immigration Subcommittee — where any immigration bill would have to start — it’s hard to imagine any legislation that even resembles the DREAM Act starting in the House within the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, Bennett’s colleagues don’t seem to realize how much damage they’re doing to the party by not following his lead in the upcoming vote. Republicans won’t just go down in history for blocking the Obama agenda. They’ll also be remembered for obstructing the dreams of millions undocumented immigrants — something which the Latino community will not soon forget.