Senate DREAM Act Vote Set for Saturday

But few think the bill has the votes to break a GOP filibuster.

By Julianne Hing Dec 17, 2010

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced last night that he would file cloture on the DREAM Act and a stand alone "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" repeal, setting up a vote for as early as Saturday morning. The bill passed in the House earlier this month.

Advocates have been preparing for this moment all year long, and are spending their last day lobbying key senators whose support they need to move forward. The DREAM Act would put undocumented youth on a long path to citizenship if they have a clean criminal record and commit two years to higher education or the military, and clear a host of other hurdles and checks.

This morning the White House, which has sent out cabinet member after cabinet member to stump for the DREAM Act, stepped in to the final push as well. "To see it passed in the House recently in a bipartisan way was extraordinarily encouraging, and took a lot of people by surprise," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said on a conference call. "I felt the momentum shift at that point."

"I am very hopeful the Senate can do the right thing," Duncan said. "It’s an absolute historic vote." Duncan, who hosted the conference with White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Cecilia Munoz, said he was making personal calls to senators today to urge them to support the bill.

As of right now, there is no contingency plan for the bill; there is only tomorrow’s vote. With the Senate composition set to change and a new Republican majority about to take over the House, many immigrant rights advocates see Saturday as the bill’s last, best chance at passage, potentially for years. It’s not just Republicans who are blocking the DREAM Act though, according to a list released by immigration advocates of senators whose votes are in doubt.

"As for prospects of victory, the only way to find out if we have the 60 votes needed is by forcing the vote in the Senate on Saturday," Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration reform advocacy group America’s Voice, said in a statement.

"It’s worth recalling that when the vote was called in the House of Representatives most predicted we would fall short, and we won by a margin of 20 votes."

Still, the Senate has been the final resting place for many a bipartisan bill after House passage. By even DREAM Act advocates’ optimistic calculations, the vote count is not looking good. While the DREAM Act’s supporters are confident they have a majority, the bill needs 60 votes to clear cloture, a motion that ends debate and begins work on the actual bill. It’s likely to be the latest casualty of the Republicans’ widespread filibustering this session. 

If the bill does fail, how badly it’ll lose is up in the air. Many think it will be an extreme one way or the other–either a very close vote, like last week’s failed DADT repeal, or the "no" votes of some senators will lead to a cascading effect and a large loss.