In the end, the border fence bill passed the Senate by a wide margin, 80-19, belying the canard that the only option for any border security to get through Congress was through comprehensive immigration reform. Facing the midterm elections, eighty Senators could not find any excuse with which to explain why America continues to leave our southern border practically undefended in a time of war:
The Senate gave final approval last night to legislation authorizing the construction of 700 miles of double-layered fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border, shelving President Bush’s vision of a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. immigration laws in favor of a vast barrier.
The measure was pushed hard by House Republican leaders, who badly wanted to pass a piece of legislation that would make good on their promises to get tough on illegal immigrants, despite warnings from critics that a multibillion-dollar fence would do little to address the underlying economic, social and law enforcement problems, or to prevent others from slipping across the border. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) surprised many advocates of a more comprehensive approach to immigration problems when he took up the House bill last week.
But in Congress’s rush to recess last night for the fall political campaigns, the fence bill passed easily, 80 to 19, with 26 Democrats joining 54 Republicans in support. One Republican, Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.); one independent, Sen. James M. Jeffords (Vt.); and 17 Democrats opposed the bill. The president has indicated that he will sign it.
Mexico’s foreign affairs secretary, Luis Ernesto Derbez, told reporters in Mexico City yesterday that his country plans to send a letter strongly condemning the measure in an effort to dissuade Bush from signing the bill.
They also passed an addition to the Homeland Security budget appropriating $1.2 billion for the new barrier. The next session of Congress will have to find the rest of the estimate $6 billion it will take to complete the project, so foes of illegal immigration still have more work to do over the next two years that the barrier will get built. Advocates of normalization will still have some leverage in which to press their policies as well. The fight over immigration reform is far from over.
More interesting is the vote taken yesterday on the bill. The final tally of opposition comprises seventeen Democrats, one Republican (Lincoln Chafee, natch), and the lone independent, Jim Jeffords. Almost all of the Democratic leadership voted against this bill: Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, John Kerry, Russ Feingold, Patrick Leahy, and Carl Levin all opposed it. Even Joe Lieberman voted against it, although he shouldn’t expect much appreciation from the netroots for that. Maria Cantwell voted against it even though she’s facing a significant challenge to her seat in these mid-terms, and expect Mike McGavick to use that in upcoming ads.
But look who voted for the bill — after trying to filibuster it. The Washington Times makes a comparison between votes on the passage of the bill and those on cloture, and sees a few that switched:
Eight Democratic senators who supported the bill last night switched their position from the previous day, when they voted to block the fence. They are Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Thomas Carper of Delaware, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Barack Obama of Illinois and Charles E. Schumer of New York.
Many of the Democrats who joined Republicans on the vote either face close elections this November or represent mostly conservative states.
But for the most part, Democrats opposed the measure.
No, most of them supported the measure (27-17), even if reluctant to do so. Why did these eight switch their votes? For Hillary especially, it is an admission of how popular a border barrier has become. She cannot hope to run for President while having gone on record against the passage of the bill. She’s hoping to avoid discussion about her vote to block the bill from ever coming to the floor — a reverse of Kerry’s “I was for the bill before I was against it” fumble from 2004. The rest smelled the coffee after the collapse of the cloture vote (71-28).
This is why I predicted that Bill Frist would press the advantage this month on the border bill. While Americans might be ambivalent about what to do with the illegal immigrants already in the US, most agree that the easy migration routes should get secured in some fashion. The party that finally takes this seriously after decades of politically-correct dithering would get a boost at the polls out of that voter dissatisfaction. Frist harvested this low-hanging fruit, and observers in places like the New York Times failed to recognize it. (That link comes from Mickey Kaus, who pays me a very nice compliment in his excellent post on the border bill, as did Instapundit.)