Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says he wants to be sure of strong… (Alex Wong, Getty Images )
WASHINGTON — The Democratic-led Senate, in a bid to win support from Republicans, plans a full-fledged debate on immigration reform, a decision that means it could be most of the year before any bill reaches President Obama, who has urged Congress to act in a "timely fashion."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday the bill would go through the traditional committee process and told senators he would schedule "whatever time you need" on the floor.
The move is in stark contrast to how the Senate handled the failed 2007 immigration bill, which was written behind closed doors, circumvented the Judiciary Committee and was rushed to a vote. That effort collapsed under strong opposition from Senate Republicans who felt blindsided.
"This time we're going to get Republican votes," Reid said, adding that the Senate would try to "legislate the way we are supposed to legislate."
He said he thought the Senate could vote on a bill by summer and send it to the Republican-controlled House, where legislation that creates a path to legal status for 11 million illegal immigrants could face strong opposition.
The longer process would allow the most sensitive issues, such as a pathway to citizenship, the number of future visas and increased border security, to be worked out through what is known as "regular order," the methodical way bills are considered and modified in the Senate.
"It was a mistake not to go through committee process the last time, as difficult as it is," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who was a part of the immigration task force six years ago and was one of four Democrats and four Republicans who unveiled a blueprint for an immigration bill on Monday.
"One of our goals is to pass this not with 60 votes — we want a large number of Republicans to vote for this because we think that will encourage the House to go forward and pass a bill," Schumer said.
The timeline is much slower than the White House would like. Obama told the Spanish language television network Telemundo on Wednesday that he would like a bill by the end of June.
"I think this is something that we should be able to get done certainly this year," he said, "and I'd like to see if we can get it done sooner, in the first half of the year if possible."