Rare Tactic May Allow Immigration Votes

Julie Hirschfeld Davis, AP, June 18, 2007

Only in the arcane world of the U.S. Senate could a quirky gambit known as a “clay pigeon” make the difference between passage of an important immigration measure and its death at the hands of opponents.

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Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would revive the bill to legalize as many as 12 million unlawful immigrants late this week. To do so, though, he needs backing from 60 senators, and a way to guarantee votes on a tentative list of 22 Republican and Democratic amendments whose consideration is seen as vital to satisfying key waverers.

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The tactic gets its name from the target used in skeet shooting, which explodes into bits as it is hit. In the Senate, an amendment is the target, and any one senator can demand that it be divided into separate fragments to be voted on piecemeal.

Under the tentative plan, Reid as early as Friday would launch his target—an amendment encompassing all 22 proposals—and shoot it into its component pieces. The Senate would then vote on ending debate on the immigration measure, which would take 60 votes and limit discussion of the bill to 30 more hours. After that interval, all 22 amendments would have to be voted on, with little opportunity for foes to interfere.

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“It’s a brilliant way to gum up the works,” said Robert B. Dove, a Senate rules expert who was the chamber’s referee for 36 years.

The maneuver appears to be a relatively modern innovation; Dove said he first became aware of it in the early 1970s, when then-Sen. Jim Allen, D-Ala., a master of parliamentary procedures, used it against a bill pushed by the then- majority leader, Sen. Mike Mansfield, D-Mont.

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