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Sessions on immigration bill: ‘Who made the deal?’

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Congress,Byron York,Immigration

The Senate debate on the Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform bill began Friday with Republican Jeff Sessions — the bill’s most outspoken opponent — attacking the secretive process that led to the creation of the bill.

“How did the legislation become as defective as it is?” Sessions asked. “I contend — I think it’s quite plain — it was because it was not written by independent members of the Senate in a more open process, but was written by special interests.”

Sessions went on to describe the behind-close-doors meetings of the bipartisan Gang of Eight leading up to the bill’s rollout in April. In the course of a few minutes, Sessions described the bill as a “secret agreement” that was “drafted in secret” in the course of “secret negotiations.”

Instead of being written in the open, Sessions said, the bill was “written by special interests.” Interest groups — the AFL-CIO, big agricultural corporations, the hospitality and landscaping industries, farm workers’ unions, the Chamber of Commerce and many others — shaped how the bill was written. “Some of the groups actually did the drafting,” Sessions said. “A lot of the language clearly came from the special interest groups that were engaged in these secret negotiations.”

The result, Sessions charged, was a carefully-crafted agreement that balanced a number of special interests in an arrangement so delicate that Gang members, four Democrats and four Republicans, made a vow not to allow substantial changes lest the whole thing fall apart. And when the proposal went before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Gang members and unanimous Democrats hung together to defeat a series of Republican amendments that might have made the bill more appealing to GOP lawmakers but would have upset one or more interests behind the bill.

“We did have a mark-up in the Judiciary Committee,” Sessions said. “We were allowed to offer amendments, and we did have some debate there, but it was odd in that, repeatedly, members, not even in the Gang of Eight, would say ‘I like this amendment, but I can’t vote for it because I understand it upsets the deal.’ So we need to ask ourselves, who made the deal? Whose deal is this?”

“And how is it,” Sessions continued, “that the deal is such that members of the United States Senate, who agree with an amendment, say they must vote against the amendment because it upsets some deal? Who was in this room? Who was in the deal making process? I contend, and I think it is quite plain, it was because [the bill] was not written by independent members of the Senate, in a more open process, but was written by special interests…The point to make is, and what I think our colleagues need to understand, and the American people need to understand, in reality, the special interests — La Raza, the unions, the corporate world, the big agriculture businesses, the food processors – they are the ones that made the agreement in this process, and the senators just sort of ratified it. And they can’t agree to a change because they promised these special interest groups.”

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Byron York

Chief Political Correspondent
The Washington Examiner