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Republicans Block Defense Debate, Dashing DREAM Hopes for Now

September 21, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Today, the Senate voted on a Motion to Invoke Cloture on a Motion to Proceed with debate on the National Defense Authorization Act. A cloture motion is offered when Senators threaten to filibuster a bill. For a cloture motion to succeed, three-fifths of the Senate must agree (60 votes). Otherwise, there is no agreement to limit debate. As a practical matter, legislation is pulled from the Senate floor if Senators cannot end a filibuster.

The cloture motion on the defense bill did not gain the necessary 60 votes. All Senate Republicans voted against the cloture motion, and they were joined by Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both of Arkansas. (Majority Leader Reid also voted no, but his vote was procedural, preserving his right as Majority Leader to bring the bill back to the Senate floor at a later date.) The final vote was 56 to 43.

Senator Reid had planned to offer the DREAM Act as an amendment to the Defense bill, but since there was no agreement to proceed with the defense bill, there will be no DREAM amendment (or any other amendment).

If the DREAM Act were ever to gain a vote on its merits, it would likely pass. However, by voting against cloture, Senators were able to avoid taking a stand on DREAM (and on the other amendments to be offered). During a brief debate on the Senate floor, Republican Senators raised a host of objections, not all of them having to do with the DREAM Act.

Regarding the DREAM Act, however, some Senators objected to having it attached to the defense bill because it was not "relevant," even though serving in the military is one way students would be able to gain legal status and passage of the DREAM Act is included in a Defense Department document outlining its strategic goals for maintaining an all-volunteer military force. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) at one point offered Republican support for proceeding with debate on the defense bill provided no immigration amendments would be considered among the first 20 amendments. This was a pretty clear signal of the minority's opposition to the DREAM Act. The offer was rejected.

You can see how your Senator voted here:

The vote came after a tremendous outpouring of support for the DREAM Act. Supporters around the country by the tens of thousands contacted their Senators offices. Supporters organized 70 events in 26 states to urge passage of the DREAM Act. (See this press release from Reform Immigration FOR America.)

In Washington, the President and some of his cabinet secretaries were engaged in support of the DREAM Act. Last week, the President spoke of his support of the DREAM Act at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's Annual Awards Gala. Today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan participated in a press briefing about the DREAM Act with leaders of educational institutions and DREAM students. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has also spoken recently of the Administration's support for the DREAM Act.

Others who have spoken out in the past few days include General Colin Powell and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. (See this article from our ImmPolitic blog for more on the outpouring of DREAM Act support.)

In the end, though, the DREAM Act is just the latest of so many issues that have not been considered in this Senate due to Republican filibusters.

After the vote, Senators Reid and Richard Durbin (D-IL, sponsor of the DREAM Act in the last several Congresses) spoke passionately about the DREAM Act, and vowed to bring it back to the Senate in some form. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), also gave a moving speech about his experience as a Japanese American serving in the military during World War II and relating that to the DREAM students who would like to serve in the military today.

There is, however, little time left in this Congress. Senators are expected to go out for campaigning in a couple of weeks. If there is another opportunity at all, it will be during a lame duck session of Congress, after the elections.


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