Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions on what’s next for the immigration bill.
HH: Joined now by Alabama United States Senator Jeff Sessions. Senator Sessions led the fight last week that temporarily, at least put down the immigration compromise bill. Senator Sessions, welcome back, good to speak with you.
JS: Hugh, thank you.
HH: What’s the status on the bill now, Senator Sessions?
JS: Well, it looks like we’re going be voting now, right now, to go to the energy bill, which means they will have to actually move to proceed back, go back to immigration, they’ll have to move to proceed to that, which is a debatable issue, too, because it would require a vote. So it’s going to be more difficult now than it otherwise would have been the case to go back to immigration. But the President, I know, would like to go back to it. Others would. But I’m not sure most Senators want to go back into that killing field again.
HH: Now tell me about over the weekend. Were you contacted by any of the proponents of the compromise to see what Jeff Sessions thinks ought to happen if it’s going to come back to the floor?
JS: Yeah, I’ve had some contacts, really, this morning, I guess, mostly, some good people wondering what I want to do. And let me tell you what I’ve told them, okay?
HH: All right.
JS: This is what, this bill, like Bill Kristol said last night on television, you know, of the Weekly Standard, he’s been sort of for it, he said as he’s studied it, it’s just a bad bill. And that is true. The bill is flawed. So number one, what it does is, it comprehensively provides amnesty or legal status for everybody immediately, even those who entered last December, and got past the National Guard are covered. It promises, the promises for future enforcement are not real. Let me tell you, the Congressional Budget Office did an analysis. They found that the border illegality would only be reduced 25%, because there will be a lot of people coming on visas. We’re going to have more visa overstays. The trigger that’s supposed to guarantee enforcement before the amnesty occurred is very weak. It just covers current law. And Hugh, it basically, we’re working on the exact numbers, but it looks like it will double the current rate of legal immigration. So it will double the legal immigration rate, and it will not reduce the illegal immigration rate. And that’s just not what the American people have in mind when we talk about comprehensive enforcement. And no amendment here or no amendment there can fix such a monumental bill that’s so out of kilter.
HH: So after they heard you discussing that, did they put their shovels on the ground and say okay, we’re going to come back next year? Or do you still expect them to try and get this back to the floor somehow?
JS: You know, my position is that until we go back to square one, and we talk about this promised move to a merit-based system which I support, but was really not in it, except eight years down the road, until they really go in there and show us some of the advantages of the bill, and change some of the provisions that are in this current legislation, I don’t see how I can support it.
HH: What about the other objectors, on both the left and the right, and there were some in the center on this, Senator Sessions. Did they have lists that if checked off would do it for them to get them back?
JS: I’m hopeful not. You know, sometimes, a bill will come up and a Senator will say well, if I can just get this amendment or that amendment, I’ll vote for it. And I don’t think one or two amendments could possibly fix the comprehensive failures in the legislation, frankly. So I’m hopeful that that won’t be the case. But attempts are being made to do that right now, talk to people, well, if you get a vote on this, would that satisfy you, and could we count on your vote? But we need to slow down, get off this track, create a principled reform of immigration law, and not a pure, political patchwork project, which is what we’ve got here.
HH: Do you expect that the construction on the fence will slow down now that the bill looks like its dying? Or would you expect that they will try and increase credibility for the bill by increasing the tempo of the fence construction?
JS: Well, the money has been funded for a substantial portion of the fencing. And the law has already been passed to build it, for 370 miles is in the trigger. But the truth is last fall, we passed legislation to build 700 miles of fencing. So I think some fencing will continue, yes. And some improvement in the size of the Border Patrol will continue. But if the President would really move forward with enforcement, I think people would come to him. And then from a position of strength, he could say okay, I will agree to major reform, but you’ve got to have these principles involved in it, and he would have a better hand to play.
HH: Do you see any attempt like that? For example, that would require them to reach out to you and Senator DeMint and a number of the other critics. Has that happened beyond a feel for whether or not there are a couple of amendments that are silver bullet amendments for you?
JS: Yeah, maybe they’re just trying right now to jam it through, still, and just say we are just a couple of malcontents. But you know, twelve Democrats voted against cloture, plus a majority of the Republicans, a substantial majority of the Republicans. So this was a bipartisan belief that this bill was not ready for final passage.
HH: Now you mentioned that you’re going to proceed to the energy bill after this vote on Gonzales is done. What does that kick in, procedurally, that you were referring to, that it makes it more difficult to go to immigration?
JS: Well, I’m not sure exactly where we were, but we’re confident now that if we are on energy, which I assume we will, that the majority leader will have to at some point move to go to the immigration bill, which could be, he could require a vote, it could even be filibustered, and that provides some leverage, and makes it more difficult for him to just blackly walk in and switch back to immigration, you see?
HH: So that would take us back to where we…
JS: So we have some leverage there to say…
JS: We’re not going back, we’re going to object to going back unless you show some real reform, because the promoters of the bill told us frequently, well Jeff, I agree with your amendment, but it changes this agreement that we’ve put together, this grand compromise, and therefore, I can’t vote with you.
HH: So in essence…
JS: And we can begin to put some leverage against that kind of attitude.
HH: We’d be going back to three weeks ago Thursday when they had the first cloture vote to proceed to the bill?
JS: Exactly right. You’re pretty good at this.
HH: Well, I’m trying to follow it. It’s the dance of a thousand pins here.
JS: (laughing) It’s complex sometimes.
HH: Last question, on the Democratic side, do you see anything that will bring those 12 who voted against cloture, are they getting pearls thrown towards them as well?
JS: They’re probably getting pearls and brick bats, but I can’t imagine all of those would collapse. I think they had…you know, the Rasmussen poll of last week showed that by a better than 2-1 majority, the people oppose this bill, you know, and also they said no legislation was better than this bill by, I think, 49%.
HH: Just a bad bill, I guess. Senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama, thanks for the update. We appreciate it immensely.
End of interview.