Method to their hubris? Why would members of the Senate’s “Gang of 8″ immigration amnesty supporters put out word that “they think the bill could win at least 70 Senate votes“? It only takes 60 votes to break a filibuster in the Senate. You’d think the “Gang” would be happy with that–last time a “comprehensive” amnesty came up for a cloture vote, in 2007, it only got 45 votes, not even a majority. By setting the bar so high, at 70, they risk making what would ordinarily be a smashing triumph–e.g., 61 votes–look disappointing. If the goal, as two “Gang” members–Schumer and McCain–suggested, is sending a message to the House that the bill has overwhelming momentum, why make even a 65 vote victory look underwhelming? It seems a mystery. Are they just cocky?
After talking to a few people, I think I have an answer. The Gang’s cockiness, as is so often the case, masks a deeper insecurity. At the moment, they do not have the 60 votes they need for cloture. The bill could easily go down the same way gun control went down. Everything depends on a large group of Senators in the middle who might vote for an amnesty bill–maybe who even want to vote for an amnesty bill–but who are (understandably) scared of the electoral consequences. In particular, they don’t want to face a campaign ad saying they were the deciding, 60th vote for amnesty. They need cover. One form of cover would be if they are indeed part of an “overwhelming majority” of, say, 70 votes! Then not only would their vote not make a difference–they could point to lots of other senators, fellow conservatives, say, who made the same choice.
In other words, the dynamics of the vote may be such that getting 70 votes is the only obvious way Schumer and the Gang can get 60 votes. If the skittish herd tips the other way, on the other hand, the Gang could just as easily end up in the 50s. And the surest way to make that happen is to not confidently predict 70.
If this is what’s going on, it’s not a sign of strength. Legislation with strong support might have 58 senators locked up, plus another half dozen willing to be the 60th vote if they’re needed. Party leaders would pick those who were in the least electoral jeapordy to take the hit. They wouldn’t be confronted with 20 senators so skittish they’ll only take the hit if all 2o take it.
P.S.: Also, if this theory is right, the need to “send a message” to the House smells like a cover story. Schumer and McCain would be ecstatic to get 60 votes and send a bill on. Then, if they House passes anything, however limited, having to do with immigration, they can have a conference committee write a compromise and see if they can get an up or down House vote on that. Whether the Senate bill had originally gotten 60 votes or 70 votes might not really make that much of a difference.
P.P.S: Whether or not the theory is right, if Schumer gets 61 votes he will forget he ever said “We’re looking not to get 61 votes …” and instead proclaim victory.
P.P.P.S.: Or they could just be cocky.
Update: Well-informed DC veteran @HJEndean tweets: “They are haunted by the Obamacare vote.” You mean senators don’t want to once again, when voters are worried about jobs, focus instead on ramming through a massive unread off-topic Dem agenda bill by a single vote? … But hey, if there are 70 votes, sure! … The negative Obamacare precedent reinforces the theory that maybe it’s either 70 votes or a loss for amnesty backers. Or, rather, those are the two most likely outcomes (not necessarily in that order). …