When the Senate Parliamentarian shot down the Democrats’ efforts to jam amnesty for illegal aliens into the BBB reconciliation bill for the third time, as Ed Morrissey reported on Friday, you might have been tempted to think that was the end of the road for this misguided effort. You would have been incorrect, however. As Ed noted at the time, both Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer were still vowing to “review their options” in terms of how they might still pull it off. That review only lasted a day or so before some of their own party members began pushing for some “options” of their own, threatening to pull their own progressive support for the entire bill if the immigration language wasn’t included. And those options are pretty “nuclear” if you’ll pardon the use of the phrase. It does seem to have become clear to many Democrats that jamming huge changes to immigration law into what is supposed to be an appropriations bill runs afoul of the rules. So the next plan looked to be just ignoring the damned rules entirely and doing it anyway. But now it appears that the entire BBB plan may have collapsed, rendering the point moot. Joe Manchin went on Fox News this morning and said he is “a no” on BBB. If he sticks to that decision, the entire spending spree is going to crash and burn.
MANCHIN: I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there.
BAIER: You’re done? This is a no?
MANCHIN: This is a no on this piece of legislation. I have tried everything I know to do.
— FoxNewsSunday (@FoxNewsSunday) December 19, 2021
I still think what the Senate Democrats were talking about doing is worth a look, however. And if someone comes up with an offer to tempt Manchin back to the table, we may still wind up having to deal with this question. Here’s how the plan would have worked out. (The Hill)
Senate Democrats are mulling a long-shot bid to get immigration reform to President Biden’s desk as they struggle to make good on years of campaign promises.
The guidance from parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, who this week rejected Democrats’ third immigration proposal, is fueling conversations within the Senate Democratic caucus about trying to circumvent the non-partisan, unelected Senate referee.
Democrats haven’t landed on a strategy on how to get immigration legislation into Biden’s massive climate and social spending package, which is in limbo until at least January. But they are leaving the door open to either trying to override MacDonough’s guidance, which is non-binding, or leapfrog her on the Senate floor altogether.
The Hill describes these schemes as attempts to “leapfrog” the Parliamentarian, but what they’re really talking about is torpedoing rules of the chamber that have been in place since well before any of these people were born. Since stomping their feet and complaining didn’t result in getting their way, plenty of Democrats were ready to simply go rogue and do whatever they feel like.
They had two options left to them, neither of which would be acceptable in more “normal” times on the Senate floor. The first is to muster a vote to “override” the Parliamentarian on this issue. But that would require getting at least a simple majority to go along with the plan. That was always very unlikely to happen since both Manchin and Sinema have repeatedly said that “under no circumstances” would they vote to ignore the Parliamentarian’s decisions. And as noted above, Manchin seems to have put his foot down today. Other Democrats were also looking quite nervous over the idea of gutting the Senate rules in this fashion, and there would obviously be no GOP votes to support it.
Plan B would have been even more of a direct affront to the upper chamber’s traditions. Some of Schumer’s colleagues have been suggesting that they simply place someone agreeable to the strategy in the chair pro tempore, probably Kamala Harris, and have them simply ignore the Parliamentarian’s ruling and call for a vote on adding the amnesty provision into the bill anyway.
The argument they are making here in support of the scheme is that the Parliamentarian’s rulings are technically nonbinding. But that’s only because of the long tradition of the Senate not requiring a binding referee. These rules harken back to a time when the Senate was supposed to be the more deliberative and traditional of the two chambers. Rules were followed because they were the rules and ignoring them could lead to chaos. Senators weren’t supposed to require hall monitors to keep them from spraying graffiti on the lockers. They were expected to do the right thing.
Apparently, those days have drawn to a close, or at least they will have if Schumer and Durbin still find some way to jam this through. Unable to push their unpopular immigration “reforms” through as part of the normal order of business, they may once again completely misuse the reconciliation process (which is only supposed to smooth over differences in funding levels for agreed-upon programs and not make significant changes to policies and laws) to completely alter our immigration system. And if they do that, I strongly suspect there will be an even bigger price to pay next November.
If the Republicans manage to retake the majority in the Senate next year, one unfortunate item they may need to deal with is a proposal to formally make the Parliamentarian’s rulings binding. It’s rather embarrassing that they might find themselves in a position where they have to do that, but if one party is going to be willing to toss the rule book out the window every time they don’t get their way, there may be no other choice.