Monday afternoon flight delays got the better of Sherrod Brown, Ohio's Democratic senior senator, as the wrath of mother nature prevented him from getting to the Senate floor to vote on the bipartisan Corker-Hoeven Border Surge Amendment. It was the first crucial vote on the Senate immigration reform package, and provides billions of dollars in manpower and technology to secure America's borders before any undocumented immigrant becomes eligible to apply for a green card.
But it was Rob Portman, Ohio's Republican junior senator, who was missing in action. No, he wasn't stuck at the airport with Senator Brown. He was in Washington and on the Senate floor. But he voted "No" on the bipartisan border security compromise, a measure so tough on illegal immigration even its chief sponsor, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), described it as "almost overkill."
What's most disheartening about Portman's vote is that he claims to actually support immigration reform. Last week a broad coalition of Ohioans, including business, Latino, African American, and Jewish leaders, met with Portman in Cleveland to implore him to support the Senate immigration bill. Not only will it add billions to the economy, but it will reduce the deficit and create millions of jobs for U.S. workers. More importantly, it's the right thing to do for Ohio families who live under the constant threat of losing a loved one to arrest or deportation.
Portman has every reason to support the Senate bill. It was vetted by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a process that Charles Grassley (R-IA), one of its most ardent opponents, described as open and bipartisan. It toughens up interior immigration enforcement, increases penalties for employers who hire unauthorized workers, expands the criminal penalties for unlawful entry into the United States, and overhauls the legal immigration system. It's a bill which has earned support across the political spectrum; from the AFL-CIO to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The bill creates a tough, yet reasonable, road to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans, including the thousands of promising youth known as DREAMERs; provides a well regulated temporary worker program (something that was not done in 1986 the last time Congress passed an immigration overhaul); renovates the badly dysfunctional visa system by cutting interminable immigration backlogs and beaconing the best and brightest to America's shores, including Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math graduates; requires employers to use E-Verify, an electronic employment verification system, aimed at preventing unscrupulous employers from hiring unauthorized aliens.
Despite all this, Portman is refusing to vote for the bill unless he can add some technical changes to E-Verify. The bill already includes a robust and mandatory E-Verify system that will crack down on illegal hiring and, coupled with the bill's other provisions, go a long way toward securing our "interior border" -- i.e. the point of hire.
But Portman's stance is no additional E-Verify amendment, no vote for immigration reform. He's being egged on by anti-immigration groups, at the same time he's being thwarted by members of his own party, who are refusing to allow votes on amendments. These are two groups who desperately want to stop the Senate from passing any bill, however Draconian, and Portman is playing right into their hands.
The Senate immigration bill is the result of hard bipartisan negotiation and compromise. It's hardly a perfect bill, but it's a very good one. And given the major concessions from both sides of the aisle to get to a bipartisan agreement, Portman's position cannot be justified -- especially given what's at stake for Ohio and for America if immigration reform fails. The message is clear: don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
The final vote on the Senate immigration bill is scheduled for Thursday. Hopefully, Senator Portman will proudly walk into the Senate chamber and, together with Senator Brown, join the bipartisan coalition of senators -- including John McCain (R-AZ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) -- who have had the guts to forge a compromise that will rebuild America's immigration system, despite the fact that they didn't get everything they wanted in the process. That's the type of problem-solving and leadership we expect from our representatives in Congress.
Or Senator Portman can choose to stand in the dark corner of the anti-immigration fringe with the likes of senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and John Cornyn (R-TX), people who've never seen an immigration plan short of mass deportation that they like.
It's up to him to decide where he will stand.