Delay on Immigration Vote a Risk


Note: Updated at 3:42 p.m. ET.

Republican worries are growing over the increasingly harsh reaction among grass-roots conservatives to the bipartisan Senate agreement on overhauling the immigration system.

As debate over amendments continues, it's clear that the leadership's decision to delay a vote on the measure until after the Senate's weeklong Memorial Day recess was a risky strategy. The delay means that the legislation's many opponents on the left and right will have time to pick it apart and pressure individual legislators while they are in their home states.

But for some conservative senators, the concern focuses more on the thunder from the right. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, for example, has been a big booster of the deal, even though the bargain appears to be unpopular in his home state, especially over provisions granting a "path to citizenship" for undocumented workers. Opponents label it amnesty. When Graham spoke at a state GOP convention last week, he was booed.

Now Graham may face a strong challenge in a GOP primary next year, party sources say--the same concern that other senators fear if they back the immigration bill. On the other hand, a Graham admirer counters that the senator's support for the bill represents a "profile in courage" and shows that he wants to get things done, even if he has to compromise to do so.

--Kenneth T. Walsh

Update: Whispers Editor Paul Bedard has this to add on the subject:

Aides in House and Senate offices this morning reported that groups opposed to the immigration bill now before the Senate are warning that they plan to flood town hall meetings during the Memorial Day recess. One top leadership aide said that groups were asking member offices for the times and places of town hall meetings or other gatherings where the lawmakers have planned to take public questions.

"Some of these members are going to get creamed on this issue when they go home," warned a Senate aide whose boss has not announced a public meeting next week. "Man, are we glad we didn't set up a town hall," said the aide.

Senate leadership officials are concerned that the pressure from voters and interest groups expected to be unleashed on lawmakers may further delay passage of the plan and very likely change some votes.

"We should have had the vote last week," said a Senate GOP official. "There's no telling how these meet-and-greets will change a member's view."