Sen. Jeff Sessions pressured five Senate Democrats — plus the entire GOP caucus — to symbolically vote late Sept. 18 against President Barack Obama’s plans to grant work permits to millions of illegal immigrants.
“Tonight’s vote proved beyond a shadow of doubt that Democrats are aware of how much Americans are opposed to Obama’s plans,” said a congressional aide.
GOP House and Senate candidates can use the amnesty issue to win in November if they “wake up, smell the Democrats’ fear, and get aggressive and relentless,” the aide said.
The vote, and a series of recent polls, show that “the path to long-term majorities for the GOP … [is] appealing to what’s always been the solid core of America — working Americans,” and not by appealing to Democratic-leaning ethnic subgroups, the aide said.
The remarkable vote capped a complicated process in which Sessions used the Senate’s debate rules to force Democratic senators to vote on an issue they wanted to ignore.
Sessions started the process by launching a debate amendment that would shelve the short-term funding bill prepared by Democratic Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid.
But Sessions characterized the amendment as a vote on whether Congress would bar Obama from spending any money to implement his much-touted amnesty plan.
Under that plan, Obama is expected to unilaterally — and possibly illegally — give work permits and residency cards to four million or more illegal immigrants after the November election.
That’s a large number of work permits. It is roughly equal to the young Americans who will begin looking for work in 2015.
“The choice could not be more clear,” Sessions said in a floor speech before the vote.
“Do we, as a nation, have the right to control our own borders? … Where is the willingness to stand up to the political class, the lobbyists, the party bosses, the elite set in our nation’s capital, and to stand by the side of the American people?” he said.
Reid has 55 Democrats, so he had the power to defeat Sessions’ plan, and thus save Obama from a huge and damaging rebuke only seven weeks before the midterm election.
But the Democratic senators didn’t want to vote on the issue, because every vote against Sessions’ plan can be characterized by Republican TV-ads as a vote for Obama’s unpopular unilateral amnesty.
GOP senators did want to vote, because it allowed them to cast symbolic votes against Obama’s amnesty plan. That’s especially important for the 14 GOP senators who voted with all Democrats in June 2013 for passage of the Obama-backed immigration and amnesty bill.
Prior to the vote, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin made clear he would support Sessions.
That defection left Reid with only 54 votes, or four extra votes to defeat Sessions’ store of 45 GOP votes and one Manchin vote.
Reid could win on a 50:50 vote, because amendments die unless they get a majority.
When the vote started, most senators quickly cast their votes, leaving a score of 46 for Sessions, and 49 for Reid.
The Democrats went into a huddle, and when they broke, Reid allowed four Democrats to cast last-minute symbolic votes against Obama’s amnesty plan, and kept one Democrat for his debate-winning 50th vote.
Those four Democratic senators who voted with Sessions were North Carolina’s Kay Hagan, New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, Arkansas’ Mark Pryor and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu.
All four face tough races, and all but Hagan are already facing GOP campaign criticism for their support of Obama’s immigration policies.
To defeat the Sessions amendment, however, Reid had to have the support of Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, who dutifully voted against Sessions’ plan. That vote now exposes him to GOP attacks as the man who saved Obama’s amnesty.
Despite the Thursday vote, all the Democratic senators voted in July to not stop Obama’s amnesty. That vote came during an earlier vote staged by Sessions.
On Thursday, the final score was 50:50, giving Reid the tactical victory, and Sessions the strategic victory of a bipartisan and solid GOP vote against Obama’s amnesty plans.
That unified GOP vote puts the GOP senators on a path toward continued votes against Obama’s amnesty once it is announced, likely in December.
The House caucus is also on the same path, because all but six GOP representatives voted in August for a bill barring Obama from spending taxpayers money to establish the amnesty.
The remarkable vote garishly showcased the turnabout in immigration politics since early 2013.
Back then, Democrats, business leaders, the established media and most of the GOP’s leadership rallied behind President Barack Obama’s top second-term priority — pushing through a bill that would give illegals a path to citizenship and double the annual inflow of foreign workers.
But as new polls and protests revealed rising hostility to Obama’s amnesty plans, Obama’s campaign collapsed.
He’s now got strong support for his immigration plans from only 15 percent of likely voters, and he’s facing roughly 45 percent strong opposition from likely voters.
His plans for a unilateral amnesty are even more unpopular, including among his Democratic base.
But Obama’s ace in the hole consists of strong support from business, who want to maximize immigration because it delivers extra workers and customers to their doors. Those business leaders have enormous political, financial and personal influence on the GOP leadership, and have persuaded many GOP legislators that there’s a shortage of workers — despite the nation’s flat wages and high unemployment rolls.
However, that influence is being eroded by the rising awareness among politicians and the public that immigration increases are unpopular. Many Americans still cherish the nation’s history of immigration, but they’re increasingly worried that out-of-control immigration could hurt their jobs and wages or further cripple government.
That’s the pent-up political force that Sessions and his allies — including many House members — want to unleash against Democratic senators during the November elections.
“I … have a message for the American people,” Sessions said during his speech before the vote.
“You have been right from the beginning. You have justly demanded that our borders be controlled, our laws enforced, and that, at long last, immigration policy serve the needs of our own people first,” he said.
“For this virtuous demand, you have been demeaned, even scorned by the governing class. … They want you to believe your concerns are somehow illegitimate. That you are wrong for being worried about your jobs, or your schools, or your hospitals, or your communities, or your national security,” he said.
“They don’t want you to speak up. They don’t want you to be heard. They don’t want you to feel you have a voice. But you do have a voice.”