WASHINGTON — As Senate Republicans floated competing proposals to boost border security, Sen. Michael Bennet signaled an openness to amendments that seek to prevent foreign nationals from crossing into the country illegally.
The Colorado Democrat, a member of the “Gang of Eight” senators seeking to reform the nation’s immigration system, suggested he is willing to vote for additional measures that would improve security along the U.S. border.
“I look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats to make productive changes to improve the bill and reaffirm that we are a nation that respects the rule of law and a nation of immigrants,” Bennet said in a press release Tuesday.
Bennet’s statement came as both Senate Republican leaders and President Obama hardened their positions respectively on border enforcement Tuesday.
The contrast may signal that Bennet hopes to help broker a deal among the competing factions within and between the two political parties. Meanwhile, the Senate voted 82-15 to cut off unlimited debate about the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744).
Yet two men close to Bennet suggested he has not tipped his hand on Republican-sponsored amendments to increase border security.
The executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Guy Cecil, declined a question about border security Tuesday.
Bennet is the chairman of the organization that works to elect Democratic candidates to the Senate in 2014. In a rare move, Cecil stood outside a door to the Senate Democrats’ weekly luncheon at the Capitol.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who helped Bennet craft provisions of the bill that seek to increase the number of guest workers, said he had not talked with Bennet about border-security related amendments recently.
“I have not chatted with him, but he was very helpful in putting together the agriculture package,” Hatch said in an interview Tuesday.
While Bennet’s position on border security was open to interpretation, two Senate GOP leaders outlined proposals to strengthen border security.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell set down his own marker on border security. He suggested that in addition to the Department of Homeland Security, another federal agency or Congress should agree that the border is secure for those granted provisional immigration status get on the path to permanent resident status or a green card.
“I’m going to need more than an assurance from Secretary (Janet) Napolitano … that the border is secure to feel comfortable about the situation on the border,” the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor Tuesday.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas spoke to reporters about his tentative proposal to require a nationwide e-verify system for employers seeking to hire workers and a 90 percent apprehension rate along the southern border with Mexico. While Senate Democratic leaders have balked at the proposal, Cornyn said their patronage would allow the legislation to “get the kind of support out of the Senate on a bipartisan basis that would give it some momentum and increase the likelihood of it passing in the House.”
Meantime, President Obama delivered remarks at the White House that praised the border-security provisions in the legislation. “If passed, the Senate bill as currently written and as hitting the floor would put in place the toughest border enforcement plan that America has ever seen,” he said at a ceremony in the East Room.
Obama said the legislation would spend as much as $6.5 billion for border security. The text of the bill stipulates that the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security is permitted to add as many as 3,500 agents with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers. It does not require the agency to spend the money and Congress would need to appropriate the money.
The Senate is expected to weigh the massive, complex bill through the end of the month.