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The DREAM Act’s Republican Landscape

Andrea Nill: Without the support of at least a handful of Republicans, the DREAM Act doesn’t stand a chance.
susan collins and olympia snowe

Maine fence-sitters Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe

Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that he will introduce the DREAM Act after Thanksgiving. In a press release, Reid stated, “Last time we sought to bring up this bill, all Republicans blocked our effort, even though many have been supporters of the DREAM Act in the past. I hope that our Republican colleagues will join me, Sen. Durbin and Democrats in passing this important piece of legislation, now that we have a stand-alone version and that political season is over.”

Without the support of at least a handful of Republicans, the DREAM Act doesn’t stand a chance. Though the majority of Democrats support the legislation, Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Jon Tester (D-MT) have all either voted against the DREAM Act at some point in their careers or expressed reservations about the legislation. However, in the past, the DREAM Act has enjoyed the support of a handful of Republicans. Immigration reform used to be a bipartisan issue. Where these Republicans seem to stand now is outlined below:

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN): Lugar and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the DREAM Act on March 26, 2009. Although Lugar voted against moving on the Department of Defense (DOD) bill which included the DREAM Act as an amendment, his senior adviser explained that the lawmaker objected to “a vote on proceeding to the defense bill in a very politically charged and unusual way. The DREAM Act deserves a proper debate on its merits.”

Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT): Bennett voted to proceed with debate on the DREAM Act in 2007. Bennett was stripped of his party’s nomination earlier this year and will be leaving the Senate in a month. Essentially, he has nothing to lose by sticking to his guns.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME): Snowe voted to proceed with debate on the DREAM Act in 2007. Snowe justified voting against the DOD bill in September by saying that “the Senate should have the ability to debate more than the three amendments the Majority Leader is allowing.” Snowe is up for reelection in 2012 and could always choose to stick with her party to play it safe.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME): Like her colleague, Collins voted in favor of the DREAM Act in 2007. Before voting against proceeding with the DOD bill, Collins explained, “I find myself on the horns of a dilemma, I support the provisions in this bill. I think it is the right thing to do. I think it is only fair… But I cannot vote to proceed to this bill under a situation that is going to shut down the debate and preclude Republican amendments.” Although she is not up for reelection any time soon, like her colleague (Snowe), Collins is feeling pressure to move farther to the right.

Sen. George LeMieux (R-FL): LeMieux’s predecessor, Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) was a strong proponent of immigration reform and the DREAM Act. Since Rubio will replace him in 2011, LeMieux doesn’t have to worry about getting reelected. Yet, he is “mulling” a 2012 Senate bid. He has also expressed some hesitation about the bill, saying, “It’s a very difficult situation for kids who are brought to this country and it’s no fault of their own. I understand that and I am sympathetic, but to attach this to this [DOD reauthorization] bill without trying to fix our broken immigration system is disingenous and irresponsible.”

Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH):Voinovich voted against proceeding with the DREAM Act in 2007. However, he has been a strong proponent of AgJOBS, a bill that would put undocumented agriculture workers on a path to legalization and has often been perceived as a swing-vote on immigration bills. He is also retiring from the Senate at the end of the year.

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK):Murkowski voted against proceeding with the DREAM Act in 2007. However, she voted in support of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006. After a tough reelection race, it looks like she will be returning to the Senate to serve another a term. And chances are she’s not to happy with the Republican establishment after losing the Republican primary to Joe Miller.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX): Hutchison voted in favor of the DREAM Act in 2007. However, since then, she has moved farther to the right on the immigration issue. She faces a tough primary in 2012.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX):Cornyn did not support the DREAM Act in 2007. Though he supported comprehensive immigration reform which included the DREAM Act in 2007, it doesn’t sound like he’s up for it in 2010. “This is getting to be a joke. No one believes that there is enough time that we could do a responsible job,” said Cornyn on the DREAM Act in July. According to him, the Senate should approach the issue in “a responsible, reasonable way and not just try to play to the peanut gallery and act like we’re going to do something we’re not.”

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ): Kyl has supported immigration reform in the past, but voted against the DREAM Act in 2007. Like many of his colleagues, his immigration position has hardened and shifted to an enforcement-only approach.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA): Brown replaced the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), a champion of immigrant rights and a tireless advocate for immigration reform. Though there is a lot a pressure on him to take a pro-immigrant stance, so far, he has stuck to his anti-immigrant guns. He recently lashed out at Harvard University, stating “They should embrace young people who want to serve their country, rather than promoting a plan that provides amnesty to students who are in this country illegally.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT): Hatch has supported both the DREAM Act and immigration reform in the past. However, he is facing a tough reelection in 2012 and has already seen his colleague, Bennett, go down in flames. Given the political climate he’s facing in Utah, my guess is he’ll vote no.

Andrea Nill

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA): Grassley voted in support of immigration reform in 2006, but against the DREAM Act in 2007. Over the past three years, his position on immigration has moved so far to the right, it is nearly unrecognizable.

Andrea Christina Nill

Reposted with permission from The Wonk Room.