The Senate Judiciary Committee kicked off a hearing on comprehensive immigration reform this morning, and if rhetorical fireworks were any indication, the debate in the coming weeks and months will be a heated one.
The contentious exchange was between Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), during the opening remarks and before witnesses began their testimony. For those who can't watch clips online, here's my rough transcript:
SCHUMER: ...So if you have ways to improve the bill, offer an amendment when we start markup in May and let's vote on it. I say that particularly to those who are pointing to what happened, the terrible tragedy in Boston as a, I would say, excuse for not doing a bill or delaying it many months or year.
GRASSLEY: I never said that!
SCHUMER: I didn't say you did.
GRASSLEY: I never said that!
There's some crosstalk between them, at which point Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) started complaining, too.
Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) banged his gavel and tried to lower the temperature, promising everyone an open, deliberate process
Of course, the fireworks underscore a lingering question: will the events in Boston last week undermine the reform effort? Or more to the point, how much will immigration reform opponents try to exploit the attacks to stall the bipartisan legislation?
Grassley is apparently feeling a little defensive on the subject, after he became the first senator on the Judiciary Committee to link immigration reform with the Boston Marathon bombing last week. Many other Republicans -- some activists, some lawmakers -- were willing to go further last week, suggesting the reform bill should be on indefinite hold because of the attack.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) took the next step today, saying in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that the legislative process "should not proceed" until the connections between immigration and national security are explored in more detail.
I'm generally skeptical about Boston's impact on immigration debate -- over the weekend, it seemed opponents had new terrorism-focused talking points, but weren't winning new converts -- though this clearly adds a new wrinkle to an already complex legislative fight.
Of all the high-profile elements of the agenda to prevent gun violence, universal background checks seem like the most obvious no-brainer, at least politically. It's one of the very few ideas that enjoys 90% support -- in any area of public policy -- and opponents generally struggle to think of coherent arguments against it.
With this in mind, when an ideologically diverse group of bipartisan senators -- two Republicans and two Democrats -- got together to craft a background-check bill, there was reason for optimism. This, more than the assault-weapons ban, seemed to be on track for serious consideration.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is moving ahead without a Republican partner on legislation to expand background checks to private gun sales, a troubling sign for the centerpiece of President Obama's gun-violence agenda.
Schumer has negotiated for weeks with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to reach a bipartisan deal on background checks, but the talks stalled over the thorny question of how to implement an expansion of background checks.
Schumer argues expanded background checks are unenforceable unless sellers or gun dealers who perform the checks are required to keep records. Coburn says gun owners will not accept the bureaucratic onus of keeping paperwork for exercising their Second Amendment rights.
It's a curious argument from Coburn. Sure, it'd be nice to prevent illegal gun sales, but, you know, paperwork is bad.
Complicating matters, Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), both of whom were part of the team working on the bill, issued a joint statement last night saying Schumer's current proposal "is one we cannot support as it stands today." Unlike Coburn, however, Kirk and Manchin appear willing to continue talks to reach a bipartisan solution, even if they're opposed to Schumer's latest version.
And making matters slightly worse still, proponents are also starting to compete with the clock.
Supporters of this and related measures still hope to move quickly, and to that end, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) intends to begin the legislative process in earnest today. Indeed, Schumer hoped to have the background-check proposal finished yesterday, so it could be part of today's committee markup.
Instead, Schumer will introduce his Fix Gun Checks Act without the three senators he's been working with for weeks. It will not include the concessions the Democrat was prepared to accept as part of the bipartisan talks, since from Schumer's perspective, there's no real point -- he might as well push the bill he wants now that he's running out of negotiating partners.
This is not to say the proposal is doomed, and Greg Sargent reported yesterday that supporters "will step up outreach to other Republican Senators -- among them John McCain and Susan Collins -- to win support for the bill."
In the larger context, I'd just add that if gun-safety ideas enjoy overwhelming, bipartisan support from the American mainstream -- Rachel noted on the show last night that 89% of Oklahomans support universal background checks, and Oklahoma is arguably the "reddest" state in the country --- and still struggle to get broad support from Republicans on Capitol Hill, there's a problem.
For nearly a month, House Republican leaders said they expected about $1.5 trillion in spending cuts in exchange for a debt-ceiling increase. As of Friday, they presented an entirely different demand: the GOP wants Senate Democrats to draft a budget blueprint for the first time in a long while.
With this mind, I imagine Republicans were at least relatively pleased with what they heard from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on "Meet the Press" yesterday.
Schumer actually made a little news on the program, announcing that Senate Democrats will not only move forward on a budget plan -- he said "it's going to be a great opportunity for us" -- he added that the caucus has "always intended to do a budget this year." In other words, they're not doing this because the House GOP asked for it; they were prepared to write a budget blueprint anyway.
In fact, Schumer sounded rather ambitious on this front, talking up a budget plan that will include tax reform and new revenues, while addressing looming sequestration cuts, all in advance of the March 1 deadline.
And what about the 60-vote threshold Senate Republicans apply to just about everything? It won't matter -- under budget reconciliation rules, the plan would not be subject to a filibuster, and could pass the chamber with 51 votes.
I can appreciate why this seems like inside baseball, but it's actually pretty important -- the efforts Schumer described yesterday are intended to not only cut off the sequester, but also avoid a government shutdown in the Spring if there's a compromise with the House. Suzy Khimm published a helpful summary of the larger budget picture.
Last night on the show, former Bush administration official Randa Fahmy Hudome told that Republicans and Democrats each say rotten things about Islam in an attempt to win votes. "If you give me 24 hours, I will dig up every negative statement of every Democratic senator and congressman against Islam and Muslims in America," she said. "And it won't be that hard."
We're now something like 17 hours in -- not that we're counting, seriously -- and Hudome may have fulfilled her pledge to dig up every negative statement from a Democrat. Or not. She says there will be more to come, and if we get more examples from her even days from now, we'll post them. So far, Hudome has sent an example involving Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and another from Florida Democratic Senate hopeful Jeff Greene. Full text after the jump.
"I'm not an expert on Muslims," Greene said. But he added that anyone who knows anything about the Koran knows that it contains "all kinds of this crazy stuff. And unfortunately that's motivating a lot of these extremists."
Greene's campaign released the tape in question, which the Palm Beach Post transcribed. It's not quite so clear as the WaPo made it seem:
"I'm not an expert on Muslims. It is my understanding that there are 1.2 billion Muslims, and that about 200 million of them are pretty devout followers of parts of the Koran. Parts of it that say something like, everyone has a chance to accept Allah and Muhammad's teachings and if they don't the infidels must be killed, there's all kinds of this crazy stuff. I think, unfortunately, that's motivating extremists. Most Muslims are like everyone else in the world, they want peace. But there are people that follow some of those crazy teachings, you know, the suicide bombers. It's a scary world out there. I believe what I read in the media, and I'm scared, and I'm scared for the world, and I'm scared for America, and that's why I'm running for office. Like I said earlier, we have to make our enemies tremble. We have to stand by our friends, be they Europeans or Israel or anywhere, and not let these extremists do anything to destroy the wonderful lives we've created for ourselves."
On to example number two, Sen. Schumer of New York.
On Sept. 10, 2003, Sen. Schumer (D-NY) testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Terrorism. His prepared testimony reads:
"Wahhabism is known throughout the Muslim world for its puritanical and severe approach to the teachings of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. It preaches violence against non-believers or infidels and serves as the religious basis for Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda.
"Experts agree that Saudi Arabia is the epicenter of Wahhabist belief and its extremist teachings. Unfortunately, there is mounting evidence that Saudi sponsored groups are trying to hijack mainstream Islam here in the United States -- in mosques, in schools, and even in prisons and the military – and replace it with Wahhabism."
"[T]he most disturbing news is that Wahhabism -- backed by truckloads of Saudi oil money -- is now making inroads here in the United States. Saudi Arabia boasts of directly supporting over 18 mosques and schools across the country, including Islamic Centers in Washington and New York. Experts who we heard from at the previous hearing suggest the real number is much higher, reaching into the hundreds, as intermediary organizations like the Saudi-sponsored World Assembly of Muslim Youth, provide financial support to American mosques and schools. In exchange, they demand that these mosques and schools toe the Wahhabi line. Saudi textbooks that preach violence against infidels can be found in some American Muslim schools. . . .
"The Council on American Islamic Relations -- perhaps the most famous of these groups -- reportedly received financial support from Saudi-funded organizations to build its $3.5 million headquarters here in Washington. This may explain why in April 2001, the Council released a survey saying that 69% of Muslims in America say it is "absolutely fundamental" or "very important" to have Wahhabi teachings at their mosques."
Hudome also sends a link to tape of Schumer saying he'll investigate the funding of the proposed mosque near Ground Zero.
Special congrats to commenter @DEMS GO NEG for finding the same ones. Wait, UPDATE: Hudome writes that she's @DEMS GO NEG. Oh, well.