in Nevada watching the World Cup on Univision are suddenly seeing a lot
of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is flooding the
Spanish-language station with an ad campaign courting Latinos, who could
help save his uphill reelection campaign.
But as he positions himself back home as a friend to Hispanics — who
could account for 15 percent of the Nevada electorate — Reid is running
into a different reality on Capitol Hill: Senate Democrats now concede
they probably can’t do much about overhauling immigration policy,
despite its importance to Latino voters.
Now, they are starting to look at alternatives to address the thorny
issue while appeasing Hispanic voters, whom Reid desperately needs to
win in Nevada, after a whopping 76 percent of them supported Barack
Obama in the 2008 election.
“I don’t necessarily think we’re going to have a comprehensive bill this
summer,” New Jersey’s . Robert Menendez, chairman of the Democratic
Senatorial Campaign Committee and the lone Hispanic senator, told
POLITICO. “Here are the clear facts: If we put a bill on the floor
tomorrow, we need Republican votes.”
But Menendez maintained that Reid stands to gain politically regardless
of what happens in the Senate — given his GOP opponent Sharron Angle’s
hard-line stance on the issue and her support for Arizona’s tough
immigration law, which has put off many Latino voters.
Senate Republicans believe that any move Reid makes on immigration will
be dictated more by his home-state politics and less about Senate
“They had 60 votes here; they could have taken care of it,” said Utah
Sen. Orrin Hatch. “Now it’s being used as a political ploy to get their
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who abandoned bipartisan efforts to pass a
comprehensive bill this year, said talk of advancing one now had “a
lot” to do with Reid’s reelection.
“The clock is going to run out, and Sen. Reid is behind [in his race];
... He made that promise, and now they’re trying to figure out what to
do,” Graham said.
Obama, Reid and Democrats nationally have already disappointed many in
the Hispanic community by failing to make immigration reform a higher
priority in 2009. Last year, Reid promised immigration reform advocates
he’d take up the bill but, instead, was consumed by health care
legislation. In April, he made a similar assurance at a Las Vegas rally,
signaling the issue was moving to the forefront of the election-year
If failing to even bring the measure to the Senate floor forces some
Nevada Hispanic voters to stay home, Reid could be in trouble in
“This is the year Hispanic voters will be very important for Harry Reid
to get reelected,” said Jon Ralston, a well-known Nevada political
analyst and columnist.
Jim Manley, Reid’s spokesman, said the Republican complaints are nothing
new and that an immigration overhaul is long overdue.
“He’s pushing for it because the system is broken, and the problem isn’t
going to go away by ignoring it,” Manley said.
Thursday, at a closed-door meeting between senior Democratic senators
and immigration reform advocates, the parties concluded that passing a
comprehensive bill would be an extremely tall order this year because of
stiff GOP opposition and uneasiness among some Democratic moderates. A
number of advocates felt that bringing up a bill this year, only to see
it fail, could set back reform efforts for years, according to several
people familiar with the meeting.
So Reid and his allies are considering abandoning a comprehensive bill
until after November, for possible action in a post-election session or
in the 112th Congress, which begins in January 2011.
Where does that leave Reid with the Latinos he’s wooing back home?
Looking for smaller victories.
Reform advocates are beginning to lobby fence-sitting Republicans to
see if they’d go along with supporting narrower immigration issues this
year — strictly dealing with undocumented agricultural workers and
children of illegal immigrants.
“The system is broken, and we’re trying to get things done as soon as we
can,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who developed the comprehensive
proposal that includes border security measures, a pathway to
citizenship for the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants and a new
biometric Social Security card to verify the legal status of U.S.
Yet as the issue recedes in the Senate, Reid is constantly reminded of
how important it remains in Nevada.
On November’s ballot, eight Latino candidates are vying for seats in the
state Assembly; their elections would quadruple the voting bloc’s
representation in the chamber, a dynamic that analysts said could bring
more Hispanic voters to the polls in November.
At the same time, the GOP’s gubernatorial candidate, Brian Sandoval, is a
Latino who could chip away at that bloc — though his hard-line
positions on immigration during the GOP primary angered Hispanic leaders
in the state. And a ferocious legal battle is emerging over GOP efforts
to force the state Legislature to vote on a bill that would resemble
Arizona’s tough immigration law — or put it on the 2012 ballot.
These divergent political trends have put Reid in a tricky spot.
Republicans are prepared to label even narrow Democratic approaches as
“amnesty” for the nation’s illegal immigrants, a label that resonates
with many independent voters in the swing state. A June poll in the Las
Vegas Review-Journal found that Nevada voters supported the new Arizona
law by 57 percent to 32 percent, and independents backed the law by 61
percent to 30 percent.
Republicans think any debate over immigration policy will help them at
If Democrats try to advance an immigration bill in the Senate, “it would
be very unpopular and would probably contribute to a larger Republican
victory in November than we otherwise are likely to have,” warned Sen.
Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).
In the weeks ahead, while Reid targets Latino voters in Nevada,
Democrats have a huge amount of business on the floor, including trying
to extend unemployment checks for the jobless. (Nevada has the nation’s
highest unemployment rate.) And politically sensitive business awaits
like repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” passing energy legislation and
confirming the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan. Must-pass
measures like extending tax cuts for the middle class are also waiting
in the wings.
Immigration reform doesn’t exactly top most senators’ election-year wish
“The tax cuts expire, so they gotta come up this year,” said Senate
Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.). “Immigration? There is
no expiration date on immigration.”