Matt Lewis

On call, Sen. Flake pushes ‘hands across the border’ amendment to immigration bill

During a conference call today, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) voiced hope that border security provisions in a new amendment being sponsored by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) would bolster bipartisan support for the immigration bill.

Flake declined to comment on specific senators that he expected the amendment to influence, saying he did not want to “get out ahead of them” until a deal was finalized. Nevertheless, he predicted that the bill’s requirements would “quell a lot of the concern and skepticism” surrounding the bill, and possibly push the number of Senators supporting the bill closer to 70.

Seventy is the magic number of senators that members of the Gang of Eight, the original drafters of the bill, have aimed for since debate began earlier in June. Many are convinced that without such significant bipartisan support, the House will decline to address the bill, thus effectively killing immigration reform.

Flake, himself a member of the ‘Gang’, acknowledged that “we could only negotiate so far with Gang of Eight,” and that the amendment from Hoeven and Corker was intended to sway Republicans who won’t support the bill without significant improvements to  border security. If the bill gets 65 or 70 votes, Flake said, the House would find it “difficult to ignore or put aside legislation that has much support.”

The improvements in the bill, Flake said, include doubling existing fencing along the border — bringing the total mileage fenced from 350 to 700 — and doubling the number of patrol agents deployed along the border. Flake said that the second improvement would amount to “hands across the border,” as there would supposedly be an agent every 1000 feet under the proposed improvements.

Flake noted that the bill does not include a trigger per se, as Sen. John Cornyn’s proposed requirement of 90 percent border security before a path to legalization would have. Rather, he said, the resources that Congress would force the Department of Homeland Security to put in place would presumably satisfy the 90 percent anyway.

When asked about the White House’s role in the bill, Flake expressed confidence that President Obama wanted to see a bill passed in order to leave “a legacy,” and that this interest outweighed Obama’s desire to use a failed bill as “a cudgel” to wield against Republicans come the 2014 midterm elections.

Tea Party members have harshly condemned the bill in recent weeks, but Flake said he was unsurprised at their visceral reaction. If anything, he said,the backlash hasn’t been as intense as it was in 2007, when Congress last tried to address the issue.

Alec Hill contributed to this report.