Story 4 Sam in the Snow
Summer 2002: The Border Security Bill is now law. Kennedy, Brownback and staffers Esther and David are eager to move on immigration, but the fight over creation of a Department of Homeland Security eats up the summer. Once Republicans take the Senate in November midterms, Senator Brownback goes into "cycle" with his own re-election campaign. Committee choices for the next Congress loom, and immigration is not playing well in Kansas. Will one of the Senate's most compassionate advocates decide to give up the Judiciary Committee and his upcoming chairmanship of the Immigration Sub-committee?
With the Border Security Bill finally signed into law, the very odd-couple Senate Immigration Sub-committee leaders Kennedy and Brownback are ready to return to the immigration reform bill they'd started with such promise before 9/11. Both their immigration staffers, Esther in Kennedy's office and David in Brownback's, are delighted. David and Esther are happy to be the anonymous, unsung heroes of the legislative process but immigration reform is the project they came to the Hill to work on. Since 9/11, they've faced a series of obstacles, one after another. Finally the way seems clear.
But on June 6th, the White House throws up one more obstacle, and it's a big one: the President goes on national TV to announce the formation of a "homeland security" department which would, if completed, be the largest re-organization of the U.S. government in 40 years. The new department will take over the functions of dozens of departments, including the I.N.S., the immigration service that David and Esther had written a bill to reorganize.
"Homeland security will be the big fish that eats everything else until September," as Brownback's Legislative Director (L.D.), John Miller, puts it in a morning staff meeting. Any work on comprehensive immigration reform is sidelined as "the big fish" consumes Esther and David's days. They spend the summer scrambling to defend the good parts of the existing immigration system as a deal on the new scheme is hammered out.
The bulk of the political jousting falls to David, as the White House plan his Republican colleagues intend to implement is not an immigration plan his boss can support. He gets pummeled by Republican leadership and administration negotiators, but his own L.D. and his friend Dustin in Senator Hatch's office coach him through. As competing bills materialize, votes are tight and Brownback's support becomes essential. David slogs on, and by the end of the summer, he is successful.
On the eve of the one-year anniversary of 9/11, the House passes a homeland security bill that essentially mirrors the White House's proposal. Senate Democrats have drafted their own version, which has adopted INS language crafted by Neal and Esther. But Senate Republicans, led by Senator Phil Gramm, counter with a substitute bill which includes essentially the same INS provisions.
While many of his Republican colleagues back in Washington are calling him intransigent, Brownback travels to his home state of Kansas to meet with constituents. State school-board candidate and anti-immigration crusader Connie Morris has been ratcheting up the rhetoric against illegal immigration and her position is starting to resonate among voters. Brownback takes issue with her exploitation of religion in the debate, but no politician could ignore the traction she is getting.
With the midterm recess looming and the Democrats holding a one-vote majority, the Senate stalls on Homeland Security and fails to get to a vote on either version of a bill. There has been talk that the delay could play to Republicans' advantage in the elections. Whether that is so, or due to a confluence of other factors, by the end of election night the Republicans had taken back control of the Senate. Suddenly Senator Brownback's swing vote on Homeland is not so important, and his standoff with the White House looks doomed.
A new White House-approved Homeland Security bill passes both Senate and House within a few days after the elections. As focus shifts to the next Congress, future committee choices come into play. Brownback considers a bid for a seat on the much sought-after Appropriations Committee, which holds the power of the government's purse. Will one of the Senate's most compassionate advocates of comprehensive immigration reform give up his seat on the Judiciary Committee, and his upcoming chairmanship of the Immigration Sub-committee, in exchange for a purse string?