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Dispute on amendments marks final stretch for immigration in Senate

Bitter argument about the process of amending a comprehensive immigration bill marked Wednesday’s debate about the overhaul, even as the legislation remained on track for a vote on final passage this week.

After days of wrangling about edits to the bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio clashed on the Senate floor over Portman’s calls for a standalone vote on an amendment he sponsored with Democrat Sen. Jon Tester to tighten rules regarding E-Verify, a system for employers to ensure that workers have legal status.

Portman has said that he will not be able to support the overall immigration legislation unless his amendment is adopted. But so far, both sides have not been able to agree on bringing it up for a vote.

Earlier Wednesday, Reid attempted to bring up a package of 32 amendments to the legislation, including Portman’s.  But Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a leading opponent of the legislation, objected to that package, saying he felt “used and abused” by bill backers' promises of an open amendment process. 

Portman then took to the Senate floor to call for a vote on his measure and reiterate that he won’t support the final bill unless his language is included.

A visibly angry Reid slammed the Ohio lawmakers, saying Portman declined the opportunity to add his amendment to an earlier package – now passed – dealing with a sweeping border security provision.

“He had the opportunity to put this amendment in the bill as it’s offered,” Reid said. “I wanted to be quiet here all day, but this is enough, this is enough!”

Portman didn’t contest that he could have included his measure in the earlier package of amendments, but argued that he and Tester would have had to sign on to that package as co-sponsors without seeing the full language of the Corker-Hoeven border security amendment.

“We chose not to do that,” he added. “Because we wanted to have a debate and a vote on this issue.”