Remember last week’s report that Lindsey Graham and the gang might try to pass the Senate bipartisan bill on immigration as soon as it’s ready, without committee hearings, amendments, or much time allotted on the floor for speeches? Per Graham himself, “You don’t want to leave it hanging out for two weeks to get shot up.” I wondered at the time if that story was being pushed in part to nudge opponents of the bill that the moment to start officially mobilizing against it has come. If so, it worked like a charm. Today, all but two of the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee signed a letter warning Pat Leahy and Reid to slow down. The key bit:

As you are aware, this bill potentially could be the most dramatic and consequential alteration of our immigration system in nearly 30 years, impacting nearly every aspect of our legal and economic structure, and increasing entitlement spending to historic levels. Before the Immigration Reform and Control Act was first introduced in the Senate in 1982, the Committee had 100 hours of hearings with 300 witnesses before marking up a bill. Congress continued to debate the bill for the next three years, and even then, the Judiciary Committee spent three months reviewing the bill before it was reported in August of 1985. Accordingly, we respectfully request that the public be given adequate time, consistent with past practice in handling complex comprehensive immigration legislation, to read and analyze the contents of any such bill before it is listed on the Committee’s Executive Business Meeting agenda. We further request that during this time, the Committee hold hearings on the overarching issues integral to the legislation.

The Committee has held only one hearing on comprehensive immigration reform on February 13th. While the Committee held a hearing on March 18th regarding the effect of reform on women and families, and a hearing is scheduled for March 20th on American values, we believe that hearings are necessary to examine implementation of the components essential to a workable system, especially given that 43 current members of the Senate were not here during the last debate in 2007. Some of those issues include future flow and a temporary guest worker program; border security metrics and solutions; interior enforcement, including worksite enforcement and employee verification; the impact of a large scale legalization on American workers and taxpayers; and the implementation of a biometric exit system, which the Government Accountability Office has determined to be the only method by which the government can accurately track visa overstays. Moreover, the last Department of Homeland Security Oversight hearing was in April 2012, and members are still waiting for Secretary Napolitano to provide answers to follow-up questions. Members should have the opportunity to question the Secretary on these and other important issues before being asked to cast a vote on such critical legislation.

We believe the process we have set forth is necessary not only to ensure that members are properly educated on this complex measure, but also to ensure a fair and open process so that the American people know what is in any such bill. The last time Congress considered legislation of this magnitude that was written behind closed doors and passed with no process, it resulted in sweeping changes to our healthcare system, the negative consequences of which are only now coming to light. As you have said in the past, if we bring these important issues to the Senate floor without them having been worked through committee, it is a prescription for a real problem.

Here’s the signature page. Which is most important?

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The temptation is to say Cornyn because he’s number two in the caucus, but no. Cornyn’s name is here first and foremost because Cruz’s name is here; Cornyn’s desperate to avoid a tea-party challenge in the primary of the sort that propelled Cruz into the Senate so there’ll be no daylight between him and his junior colleague from now until next November. Cruz is more important for another reason too. With so many tea-party stars lining up for immigration reform — Rubio most famously, of course, but Paul also suggested today he might support the Gang of Eight’s bill with amendments — the base may end up looking for a conservative champion in the Senate to rally grassroots opposition to the bill. The guy who delivered the keynote at CPAC and who’s become the Democrats’ public enemy number one in just two months in office is a natural choice, and he’s signaling here that he’s prepared to make a fuss if Graham and Schumer try to push this through too quickly.

With Cruz mobilizing the base and the odds of primary challenges rising, the odds that squishy Republicans would acquiesce in rubber-stamping it without hearings seems much less likely to me, no matter how eager they are to earn goodwill with Latinos by getting it done ASAP. There is a straddle they’ll have to perform here in passing the bill but not making conservatives too angry in the process. Rand Paul understands it, which is why he emphasized border security in his speech today while mentioning citizenship not at all. Rubio understands it too, which is why he undertook that talk-radio charm offensive and promised Rush he’d walk away if Democrats don’t follow an open, thorough process towards passage. I think he would walk away too if it came to that: Actually passing the bill is much less important to Rubio’s national ambitions than simply being seen as a voice of moderation and inclusion, and he’s already more or less achieved the latter by taking such a visible role in this process. Mickey Kaus scolded me on Twitter after last week’s post for suggesting that it’s paranoid to think fans of amnesty might want to push the bill through Congress quickly, but I never said it was paranoid. It’s quite logical, after the debacles of 2006 and 2007, for them to want to do that. I just think it’s unlikely because there’s too much political peril in Republican primaries, both local and national, for the major players on the right not to make a fuss about it and slow the process down if Schumer/Graham tried it. Especially for Rubio, who’ll take most of the blame from grassroots conservatives if this thing passes the Senate in a dubious way.