The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller
              Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, flanked by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., left, and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 12, 2013.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
              Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, flanked by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., left, and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)   

McConnell sets stage for immigration concession

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell endorsed a modest amendment to the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill Tuesday, a move that could set the stage for a major concession by the Kentucky Republican and his party on the far-reaching and relatively unpopular bill.

Although Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate’s majority leader, called the amendment offered by Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn a “poison pill,” a major opponent of the bill dismissed Reid’s description as posturing to help Republicans portray it as a major improvement to the bill.

Cornyn’s amendment, which McConnell promoted at a 2:15 press conference Tuesday, would require the Department of Homeland Security to declare it monitors 100 percent of the U.S. border with Mexico and has 90 percent “operational control” of the frontier.

The amendment does not require country-wide tracking of illegal immigrants who arrive on commercial airline flights. But its acceptance could allow the senators to end debate and pass the bill by July 4.

The amendment is “just political theater to provide cover for Republican congressmen who want to give the plutocracy what it wants… lowered wages and a morally righteous feeling,” Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a research nonprofit that advocates reduction of both legal and illegal immigration, told The Daily Caller.

Krikorian’s analysis was bolstered by a statement from one of the eight senators who crafted the massive bill.

“Contrary to what is being said, it is not a poison pill,” Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona told The Daily Caller.

“There are a couple of points that are tough, but we’re working on it,” said Flake, who is one of the four GOP senators in the Gang of Eight, which is led by Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat.

“We want to modify it … [and Cornyn] is trying to work on something that improves the bill,” Flake told TheDC a few minutes after McConnell, Cornyn and Reid spoke with reporters. “If he gets his amendment as it stands, he’ll work for the bill. and hopefully we can modify it [and] everybody can vote for it.”

The Senate voted this afternoon to begin formal floor debate on the bill. Shortly afterward, McConnell walked to a hallway press conference, where he spoke briefly about federal Internet surveillance programs before ceding the microphone to Cornyn.

By giving the microphone to Cornyn, McConnell publicly declined to help GOP opponents of the bill, including Sens. Chuck Grassley, Jeff Sessions, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Tim Scott, explain their opposition.