Sen. Harry Reid’s push for immigration reform this year is putting him at odds with other Democrats in the Senate who would rather not tackle such a thorny issue in an election year, according to a report today in The Hill.
Immigration reform is hardly a winning issue in states with centrist or conservative Democrats trying to keep their Senate seats. But it may need to be a winner for Reid, the Senate majority leader who would like to be able to count on a heavy turnout of Hispanic voters in Nevada as he tries to climb to re-election.
Reid’s enthusiastic speech at an immigration rally in Las Vegas over the weekend, in which he said he wanted the Senate to act this year, came as a surprise to fellow Democrats, according to The Hill and a report earlier this week in Roll Call, which both cover Capitol Hill.
A senator who spoke with the Hill under promise of anonymity said this is an instance where the needs of the leader are conflicting with the needs of senators from conservative states, such as Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas who is struggling in the polls and doesn’t need to take more controversial votes.
"Reid feels he needs to roll the dice and work up some enthusiasm among the base," the Hill quoted Ted Jelen, political science professor at UNLV.
"Looking at the polls, there are very few undecided voters," Jelen said. "This is going to be entirely about turnout."
Reid spokeswoman Regan LaChappelle said Reid has consistently put immigration reform as a high priority. "He remains committed to considering a comprehensive immigration reform bill on the Senate floor as soon as possible."
When that might happen is unclear. Reid told reporters on Tuesday that it is not on the list of bills that he wants the Senate to tackle before Memorial Day. Roll Call reported Reid is planning to try to get a bill to the Senate floor as early as June, and planned to press Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who have been trying to identify some bipartisan areas of agreement.
The Nevadan "is pretty serious about this," the publication quoted one aide. "We’ve got all of June and most of July to get this done."
Roll Call said that there is no appetite among Republican leaders to take up the issue, even as they backed the last big push for reform in 2007.
But some Democratic strategists said Democrats may not win a bill but they could win on the issue this fall.
Taking on immigration reform "is not only about securing our base; it is about building our base and taking it away from (Republicans)," Roll Call quoted a Dem strategist.
"An all-Democratic bill works better in this case because the tea party and right-wing will react strongly and permanently alienate Latinos for any significant amount of time," the strategist said.