Bush aides find cure to Congress's poll woes: Passing shamnesty; Update: Cloture vote on Tuesday; Update: Alexander votes no

They’ve got a 3% approval rating on the issue of immigration, an even split within their own party on the amnesty bill itself, and their core constituents are telling them to go back to the drawing board. The obvious Rx for Pelosi, according to the Bushies? Pass that sucker!

Administration officials say that if the bill gets to the House, they’re ready to do the handholding and retail spadework necessary to line up Republican votes. They believe pressure will build on Speaker Nancy Pelosi from constituencies within her own party that want immigration reform. They also hope she will be under pressure to deliver at a time when the approval rating for Congress is in the cellar.

Here’s what she has to look forward to if and when it reaches the House:

Aides to Republican senators – even ones who favor comprehensive immigration reform — tell Playbook they have faced an agonizing situation where their bosses get dozens of calls in favor of the bill and thousands of calls against it. “Sadly, it’s not a debate about what’s in the bill,” said one White House ally. “It’s a matter of awful messaging and rollout. It’s not like business and Hispanic groups are coming to us and saying, ‘You have to be in support of this.’ That’s just not happening. There’s a lot of ill will and bad feelings and it’s just run into a buzz saw. You’re asking senators to walk the plank on a bill that may not even get out of the House.”

That’s the left’s “branding” excuse being coopted here by right-wingers. It’s on a continuum with the other sneering, insulting rhetoric we’ve heard from the pro-amnesty superheroes. It can’t be the policy, which of course is sound and pristine, that’s the problem; it’s the way it’s been spun for slow-witted yokels to get them exercised that’s brought us to this point. That’ll be the party line if and when the bill collapses too. When you hear it, remember that St. John himself was at one point completely unaware that there was nothing in the bill requiring illegals to pay back taxes. That’s how well the Grand Bargainers knows its own work. (Note well: there’s still no back-taxes requirement in there.)

Lott apparently still thinks they’ve got 60 votes for cloture, notwithstanding the slew of defections yesterday. John Hawkins‘s Senate source isn’t so sure, thanks to Reid trying to force this through with every anti-democratic procedural measure available to him:

The conventional wisdom has been that this first cloture vote is a done deal because the Senate leadership has been wheeling and dealing behind the scenes. The way it works is that they go to a Senator and offer to allow a vote on their Amendment IF — and only if — that Senator agrees to vote for cloture on the “clay pigeon” strategy.

My source tells me that this has left a sour taste in the mouth of a number of Republican Senators who are upset that Mitch McConnell is cooperating with Harry Reid to curtail the rights of Republican Senators. Moreover, there’s a growing fear that a dangerous precedent is being set here that could be used against Republican Senators again and again as long as they’re in the minority. After all, if the “clay pigeon” strategy is used against conservatives on the immigration issue, who’s to say it won’t also be used against them on any number of issues in the future? According to my source, this is causing a lot of nervousness amongst Republican Senators and it has Mitch McConnell acting very defensive behind closed doors about working with Harry Reid to roll members of his own caucus. Because of this issue, my source tells me that the vote for the “clay pigeon” strategy is no longer a slam dunk and it is possible that the “grand bargainers” may not be able to get 60 votes to put the bill on the floor as a new bill. If that turns out to be the case, the bill is dead.

There are two cloture votes, in other words: the first one will open up debate on the new bill and the amendments and the second one will end the debate and move to a vote on the bill itself. Hawkins’s source thinks the first one is the best chance to kill it, but I don’t see why. The more amendments you offer, the harder it is to keep a 60-vote consensus without alienating anyone.

Inhofe gave it a 76%(?) chance of failing at this point last night on John Ziegler’s show. It could come to the floor as early as tonight. As Kaus says, Friday evening would be a perfect time to kill it thanks to the minimum media fallout. Stand by for updates throughout the day.

Update: Shamnesty regrouping? They’re off until Tuesday.

Update: Momentummania!