Over the weekend I’ve heard rumors from both sides of the DREAM Act debate that the bill — which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children — is currently just one vote shy of the sixty it needs for passage in the Senate.
The DREAM Act has garnered lots of Republican support in the past, but most of those allies have reversed themselves in recent months, as the political winds in the country — and in the GOP specifically — have shifted. With the rise of the Tea Party, many Republicans now see a vote for the bill as a potential liability in future races.
It’s not impossible that the bill could get to sixty votes during the current lame duck session, but it seems highly unlikely. And there have been no public declarations of support for the DREAM Act in recent days that would lend credence to the “59 votes” story.
So where did the rumor come from? I’m guessing it was the vote last week on tabling the DREAM Act, a vote that pulled the bill from the Senate floor allowing it to be brought back in revised form this week. That vote passed by a 59-40 margin, with supporters of the law mostly voting yes, and opponents mostly voting no.
Pay close attention to that “mostly,” though. The vote on the motion proceeded largely along partisan lines, with only four Democrats voting against and five Republicans voting in favor. And crucially, those defections don’t track with what we know about how the DREAM Act vote itself is likely to shake out — the two declared Republican DREAM Act supporters voted with their party against the motion, for instance.
I don’t know why the vote came out exactly the way it did, but it’s clear that it’s not a proxy for the DREAM Act vote itself.
Update | DREAM Activist Prerna Lal replies to this post on Twitter: “It’s prob not going to be close. It’s either 60 (like 10%) or teetering at 55.”
She’s right, and here’s why. There are more than sixty senators who support the DREAM Act in their heart of hearts. If this vote were held by secret ballot, it’d pass pretty easily. But a significant number of senators — most of them Republicans — are worried that they’ll suffer political consequences if they vote yes.
If you go to one of those senators — let’s call her Shmusan Shmollins, just to pick a name out of a hat — and ask her to be the 57th vote for the DREAM Act, she’ll turn you down. Because if she’s number 57, and there’s no number 58, the bill still fails. She takes a hit, and the bill still fails.
If you ask her to be the 60th vote, on the other hand, she’s got a tougher predicament. Voting yes hurts her, but voting no hurts the DREAMers. If you can get to 59, getting to 60 is easy. And by the same token, if you can’t get to 60, numbers 57, 58, and 59 are likely to flip back to the “no” column.