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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he is hoping to build an immigration reform bill with bipartisan support but that some related issues are not up for debate in his view.
Meeting Thursday morning at his Searchlight home, Reid outlined his top priorities for the U.S. Senate in 2013, including immigration reform, to reporters who cover the Southern Nevada Hispanic community.
“There will be nothing done in my Senate (on immigration reform) without a pathway to citizenship,” he said.
Reid, sitting in his Western-themed home, which sits in the middle of wide-open desert not unlike the terrain around the southwestern U.S.-Mexico border, said it was time to turn the focus away from border security and toward other reform measures.
“We have spent a huge amount of money on border security, and both our northern and southern borders are more secure,” Reid said. “Frankly, Mexico is doing much better economically, and that has helped the issue a lot. We can’t build a fence of 3,000 miles because no matter how high we build it, they can build a ladder taller than that fence. So I think we have about expended our energy on border security.”
Reid said immigration reform was one of his top two issues for this session. Currently, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., are working on a bipartisan set of principles to help frame the upcoming debate that they hope to unveil by the end of this month.
“People will have to move to the back of line. They would have to pay some penalties and fines, and they have to work, stay out of trouble and work on speaking English,” said Reid, offering general principles for a pathway to citizenship for immigrants without legal residency. “That would bring people out of the shadows and really help everybody. It would be good for family reunification.”
Reid, who credits his 2010 re-election to Hispanic support, said he had no issue with E-Verify, the federal system for employers to check the immigration status of job applicants, but that it would have to be used much more widely to be effective.
“We have to make the employer sanctions not a Catch-22,” he said. “No one can do it right. If you are an employer, you have trouble, and if you are an employee, you have trouble. So these are some of the things we need to work on that are totally doable if there is a will. That’s why I hope McCain sticks with it, because it will be a great legacy for him.”
Reid lamented the loss of Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, both of whom are resigning, and said it was important to replace the loss of Hispanic leaders in the upper echelons of the federal government.
“I have never ever served with someone who I admire more (than Ken Salazar), and whom I feel more strongly about. … It’s a shame,” Reid said, adding he was offering recommendations for appointments to President Barack Obama.
Reid also touched on subjects that do not carry added weight in the Hispanic community, including Obama’s gun-control speech Wednesday morning.
Reid referred to a “room full of guns” in his house, saying he used to hunt but that he no longer could say what the guns are for. He said he was open to discussion about the types of firearms that are available and magazine capacity, but he also wanted to look into mental health issues and violence in media and video games.
Reid said he would be in favor of training to help teachers identify mental health problems, and he thought the regulations around forced psychiatric care had become too strict after being too lenient when he first started practicing law.
For those wanting to purchase guns, Reid said, “I think there can be general agreement that we can do a much more thorough and better job.”
Last year, 75,000 people lied about having a felony conviction on their record when they purchased a gun, Reid said, and just 7,000 of those people were referred to the U.S. Justice Department.
“That’s wrong,” he said. “That shows we can do a better job on things like that.”
Reid will return this weekend to Washington, D.C., and will attend the presidential inauguration on Monday.
A relief bill for victims of Hurricane Sandy that had already passed the House of Representatives is at the top of the pile for the Senate when it returns. Then the Senate will address nominations and its rules. Those issues could become contentious as Reid made it clear he planned procedural rule changes.
Reid repeatedly has criticized the overuse of the procedural filibuster, in which one or more senators stall legislation by registering an objection but without actually having to speak on the floor to delay action. Sixty votes are needed to overcome the procedural filibuster.
Reid said he would not attempt to reduce the votes needed to end the filibuster to a simple majority, but he said he would take action to streamline procedural rules that delay action. For example, Reid said he wanted to shorten the time allowed for debate after cloture, the filing to end debate, from 30 hours to just a few hours.
Such a change could draw the ire of Senate Republicans and their minority leader, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell.
“I would hope that McConnell would realize I’m going to do it with or without him,” Reid said. “It would be nice if he would work with me to do something. At this stage, that has not come to be.”
After that, Reid said it would be time to tackle the tough debates over gun control and immigration reform.