The Senate majority leader is set to make an already contentious debate on Capitol Hill even more so by attaching immigration legislation that could give amnesty to some illegal immigrants, onto the Defense Authorization bill -- which already includes the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced the next vote in the Senate will, in fact, be cloture to start debate on the defense bill Tuesday. Republicans have already threatened to filibuster the bill that funds the troops, because of strong opposition to the language in the bill that repeals the Clinton-era policy that bans gays from serving openly in the military. The Department of Defense has commissioned a branch-wide study on the repeal that is not scheduled to conclude until the end of the year.
"It's going to have a number of extraneous measures in it that have nothing to do with defense," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor, "which is making it needlessly controversial."
Another "extraneous measure" is the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation aimed at giving alien minors who meet certain requirements, like higher education and military service, a pathway to citizenship. Sen. Reid announced earlier this week his intention to attach it to the authorization bill.
"This is turning legislation related to our national defense and military preparedness into a vehicle to force a partisan agenda through the Senate," Arizona Senator John McCain (R) blasted. "What's worse, the majority leader is pushing this controversial agenda under the cover of supporting our troops, knowing that the national defense authorization act is a must-pass bill, and whatever else is in it will inevitably become law as a result."
Similar forms of the bill have been floating around the House and Senate since 2001, and have been bipartisan along the way. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin (D) is the sponsor of this version, first introduced in March 2009.
"This is bipartisan legislation, the DREAM Act. This is bipartisan legislation that I have introduced with Republican Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana," Durbin reminded the Chamber. "Let us not get caught up in the emotional and angry rhetoric," he implored.
Even border-state Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) said she received enough of a compromise from Durbin to support the bill, and the last vote in October garnered 11 GOP "yeas" for the measure. But many Republicans fear the DREAM Act is a form of amnesty, which would only encourage illegal immigration.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) tried to make that point.
"It's disguised as an education initiative, but it will provide a powerful incentive for more illegal immigration by allowing states to grant in-state tuition to illegal alien students. This is a bad idea at any time, but this is a bad idea right now, at the worst possible time."
Republicans also say the timing of bringing up the DREAM Act is circumspect, pointing to the November general election and Reid's tight race in a heavily Hispanic state.
"I would ask the majority leader, would one draw a conclusion or surmise that perhaps this has everything to do with elections -- and nothing to do with national defense?"
But in direct rebuttal, Reid said it's about doing what senators are sent to Washington to do, and that's dealing with legislation.
"If a young man or woman of Hispanic origin decides that they want to join the United States military, they would have the right to do that (under the DREAM ACT)," Reid continued, "That's all the DREAM act does. I think it has a lot to do with the defense of this nation."
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