Which Hatch Will Come Forward on Immigration?

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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Supporters of immigration reform are keeping a close eye on Senator Orrin Hatch. The conservative Utah Republican could be a crucial backer of the overhaul measure in the Senate Judiciary Committee next month.

Hatch hasn't made a firm commitment pro or con, though he was involved in some of the behind-the-scenes negotiations and has indicated he would like to support a measure.

If he does, the legislation is likely to clear the committee with at least a 13-5 vote, which would include all 10 of the panel's Democrats and two other Republicans: Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona. Then, supporters say they believe the measure is likely to win 70 or more votes when it comes up for a vote on the Senate floor in early summer. Passage with such a large margin would put pressure on the House Republican leadership to introduce its own comprehensive measure later this year.

Hatch's support, by no means a certainty, would probably require some concessions, most likely to likely to appease his supporters in the high-tech industry.

For years, Hatch worked with Democrats, such as the late-Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, to forge compromises. However,after he faced opposition from Tea Party conservatives in his re-election last year, Hatch veered sharply to the right and has eschewed any bipartisan efforts. Now, with almost a full term ahead, Democrats say they think he may revert to previous form when it comes to the immigration bill.

The legislation would clear the committee even without Hatch's support, and would almost certainly pass the Senate. The margins just wouldn't be as decisive.

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To contact the author on this story:
Albert R Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net