Immigration reform critics flood Senate with phone calls

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Critics of the Democrat-led immigration rewrite are bombarding Senate offices with thousands of phone calls, and advocates say those calls are keeping numerous wayward GOP Senators from joining the Democrats’ immigration bill.

“Five hundred [calls] yesterday, and right now, they’re just ringing non-stop,” said an upset staffer at the office of Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, who has voted on both sides of the dispute.

Protestors have sent “hundreds or thousands” of calls to Ohio Republican Sen. Robert Portman’s Republican office, a staff member told The Daily Caller.

“That vast majority of calls today have been on that… [and] we’ve been getting calls on that for a couple of weeks,” said a staffer working for Pennsylvania Democrat Sen. Robert Casey.

The calls have stiffened the spine of GOP Senators who might otherwise bend to pressure from business groups and from influential people in their home state, such as editorial writers and clerics, said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, which provides a free phone service for Americans who oppose the massive rewrite.

“Our lines sent in hundreds of thousands of calls in the last month,” said Beck. “The senators spend most of their time with big-time donors, and lobbyists and leaders of special-interest groups, and they don’t have much time to spend with voters in their states… [so] faxes, phone-calls and emails are virtually the only way that voters can have access, “ Beck said.

He argues that polls show the bill’s details are very unpopular, especially among GOP voters. Forty-nine percent of Republicans and 45 percent of blue-collar white voters say they would be less likely to support a politician who voted for “a pathway to citizenship,” or amnesty, according to a new poll by National Journal. That’s true for only 19 percent of Democrats.

The Senate’s Majority Leader, Sen. Harry Reid, is pushing to pass the bill prior to the July 4 break because the public is learning more about the details of the bill, said William Gheen, head of the ALIPAC, or the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC.

“The calls [to Congress] are going our way… and if the bill can be delayed another week, it probably won’t pass,” Gheen said.

Without the calls, the Democratic leadership would have gotten up to 85 votes in the critical Monday cloture-vote, leaving only 15 against amnesty and guest-workers, Beck estimated. “The phones calls have bumped it up from 15 to 27 or 31,” he said.

However, Beck’s side did lose the critical cloture vote, 27 to 67, with several Senators absent. In 2007, a similar vote was crushed 53 to 46, ending an immigration bill championed by President George W. Bush.

Since then, the pro-immigration coalition has changed its language and tactics, and has spent a lot of money on advertising, lobbying and  public relations, said Beck. There’s no independent means to measure the volume and direction of calls to Senators’ offices.

TheDC called the offices of 15 Senators, and several Senators’ regional offices to ask the number of protest calls. Most offices gave guarded responses, and no press secretaries offered an estimate of incoming calls.

“Yes, we’ve got quite a few,” said a staffer at Sen. Mark Kirk’s office, a GOP member from Illinois. He voted against the bill initially, but voted for it during the important Monday cloture vote that allowed the Democratic leadership to schedule a decisive vote.

Staff at the office of Louisiana’s Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu got “probably a couple of hundred” calls, said one secretary. Landrieu is a possible swing-vote, because she’s up for election in a GOP-leaning state, and voted against a similar immigration rewrite in 2007 when the country was going through an economic boom.

“We’ve been getting hundreds of calls,” said a staffer working for Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, another Senator who supported the Monday cloture vote.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls… We’re getting hundreds of calls,” said a staffer working for Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who brokered a border-security deal with the Democrats that ensured a win for the Democrats on Monday.

Washington Democrat Sen. Patty Murray, who isn’t regarded as a swing-voter on the issue despite having many jobs in her high-tech district lost to guest-workers, also received many calls. “We have received a number of calls… We’ve been getting a lot,” said a staffer in her office.

TheDC was unable to get through to some offices because the lines were busy.

The message on Michigan Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s phone system said, “It is my honor to serve you… If you’d like to leave a comment about an issue, please press 1.”

“We apologize that we are unable to answer at this time,” said the phone message at the office of West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, who also backed the Monday cloture vote.

“We are experiencing a high volume of calls,” said a woman’s voice on the phone system at West Virginia Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s office. Like Manchin, he supported the cloture vote, after voting against a similar measure in 2007.

Another round of critical votes is expected on Wednesday, and barring a major development, Reid will get sixty-plus votes for the bill — a win for Reid and his deputy, New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer.

But every Senator’s vote lost due to constituents’ calls reduces the bill’s political clout prior to the next stage, when Democrats’ coalition of progressives, business leaders and ethnic lobbies must persuade or pressure the GOP’s House leadership to back a bill amid fierce opposition from a large portion of the House GOP caucus.

The GOP is split between two factions.

The business-backed wing of the GOP said the immigration bill will spur the economy and help the GOP win votes from the Democratic-leaning Hispanic communities, who comprised 8.4 percent of the electorate in 2012.

The populist wing argues that an amnesty will worsen economic conditions and cost the GOP even more votes among downscale whites. Whites comprised 74 percent of the electorate in 2012, but fewer turned out to vote than turned out in 2008 or 2004. A massive off-year turnout in 2010 generated sweeping victories for the GOP.

Overall, the bill would add roughly 46 million Democratic-leaning immigrants to the United States by 2033. It will also nudge down blue-collar wages and professionals’ salaries, reduce average education and employment-rates for a decade, and tilt more of the nation’s income towards property owners for at least two decades, according to a June 16 report by the Congressional Budget Office.

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