One of the defining features of the Senate Judiciary Committee meetings considering amendments to the Gang of Eight immigration reform bill is that the two Republican Gang members on the committee — Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake — have often sided with unanimous Democrats to vote down GOP amendments. There have been reports that the bipartisan Gang has met before each session to consider which amendments are acceptable and which are not. The result of those meetings was dramatically in evidence Monday afternoon.
The committee was considering an amendment from Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, an opponent of the comprehensive immigration reform proposal, that would forbid newly-legalized immigrants from receiving Earned Income Tax Credit payments. Under Sessions’ amendment, those payments would be limited to citizens and legal permanent residents of the United States. Formerly-illegal immigrants in provisional status — known as RPI in the bill — would not be eligible for earned income payments.
“EITC is generally available to anyone that has a Social Security number,” Sessions told the committee. “As these [registered provisional immigrants] are all established and get a Social Security number, they will qualify, it appears, under the law, for earned income tax credit. I’m not sure the sponsors understood that, because they’ve insisted that RPI aliens will not receive any federal benefits under the bill. But [the Gang bill] would grant such benefits to millions and be a substantial burden on our country’s finances…”
The situation was potentially embarrassing for Graham and Flake, who might not want to explain to their constituents that their bill gave federal benefits to newly-legalized immigrants. So it appears that the Gang had met and Democrats had given the two Republicans permission to support Sessions’ amendment. As the clerk was calling the roll for votes (at about 3:05 in the video), Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, the de facto leader of the Gang, was heard turning to an aide and asking, “Do our Republicans have a pass on this one, if they want? Yes.”
They did indeed want. In a somewhat unusual show of Republican unity, Graham and Flake joined other Republicans to vote for the Sessions amendment. It didn’t matter — Democrats have a 10-to-8 majority on the committee and voted unanimously against Sessions’ amendment, meaning it was killed by a 10-to-8 margin. But the moment provided a glimpse of the degree to which Graham and Flake are working with Schumer in maneuvering the Gang of Eight bill through the Judiciary Committee.