When the next Congress convenes in January 2007, the Democrats will have control of the House by what looks like a 230-205 margin and will control the Senate by a 51-49 margin (including two independents who will caucus with the Democrats).
Senate Democrats have already chosen a slate of leaders for the 110th Congress, electing Harry Reid (D-NV) as Majority Leader and Richard Durbin (D-IL) as Majority Whip. Senate leadership also announced plans to replace Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) with the Committee’s current ranking Democrat, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Within the Judiciary Committee, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), currently the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship, will likely take over Chairmanship of the Immigration Subcommittee from Senator John Cornyn (R-TX).
House Democrats have scheduled leadership elections in the next several days when Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will likely be nominated as the Democrats’ choice for Speaker of the House for the 110th Congress. Also on the House side, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) is expected to replace Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, while Chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims will go to either ranking Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) or Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).
These changes in the Senate and the House leadership by no means signify that it will be easy to gain passage of positive and comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the coming two years. Two Republican moderates in the Senate who had strongly supported comprehensive immigration reform lost – Senators DeWine (OH) and Chafee (RI). Thus, finding the 60 votes that will be needed in the Senate to pass any piece of controversial legislation may prove to be a challenge. Moreover, in the House, many of the victors are conservative Democrats, and the looming 2008 presidential election will send both parties “tacking” strongly to the center. Please see Fareed Zakaria’s article in the November 13 issue of Newsweek (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15566722/site/newsweek/from/ET/) for a good analysis of the prospects for immigration reform in the new Congress. Hopefully, both parties will take seriously the fact that immigration restrictionists lost badly in these mid-term elections. Indeed, President Bush, in commenting on election results, said that there is a “good chance” the next Congress can pass comprehensive reform, which he characterized as “an issue where I believe we can find some common ground with the Democrats.”
Congress is already into its first week of a post-election, lame duck session and its top priority is passage of the various appropriation bills required to fund our government. As Congress moves to consider these appropriation bills, there may be opportunities to include in them positive immigration provisions such as H-1B and employment-based green card relief. At the same time, it is critical to defeat any possible attempts to insert into appropriations legislation harsh immigration enforcement measures. Looking ahead, it seems fairly clear that if the present failing immigration system is to be replaced by a realistic immigration system that meets the needs of our economy, our families and our national security, it will be up to the 110th Congress to do so.
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