The battle over the so-called "DREAM Act" partial immigration amnesty seems to have reached a stage of asymmetric warfare. The House has passed the bill. In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid can bring up that House bill any time, and can threaten to keep the Senate in session until January 4 while his colleagues are pounded by a guilt-tripping barrage of undocumented poster children along with suspect threats that the Latino vote for all time will be lost to those who don't go along with his "mad duck" rush. Reid doesn't have to call a vote on DREAM unless he thinks he can win, and he only has to win once. Meanwhile, anti-DREAM anti-amnesty forces have to play perfect defense.
But that doesn't mean they don't have a strong hand. Reid appears not to have the votes right now, nor is there a visible movement of senators toward the bill. (Scott Brown of Massachusetts recently came out against it.) And while I've no doubt Reid actually intends to pass DREAM if he can—he isn't staging a Kabuki "designed to fail" show vote—there are plenty of reasons why he would be pursing exactly this course even if he were destined to lose. First and foremost, even if voters might be taken in by a quick Kabuki vote, political pros are less easily conned. Reid needs to demonstrate to the Latino activist types with whom he's allied that he really is doing everything he can—especially since on the last big immigrant-legalization vote, in 2007, he arguably did set up a Kabuki-esque failure. And while some Latino voters may be shifting away from amnesty for illegals, Rep. Luis Gutierrez and other Latino leaders are not.
But there are countervailing pressures, aside from the ticking of the holiday clock. I count 11 Democratic senators from red or reddish states who are up for reelection in 2012 or 2014 and might be perfectly happy not having to decide between pissing off pro-amnesty Latinos or pissing off anti-amnesty independent voters. Of those, at least eight (Baucus, Hagan, McCaskill, Landrieu, Stabenow, Conrad, Manchin, Tester) routinely turn up on DREAM Act swing-vote lobby lists. These senators would almost certainly just as soon get out of town without voting on DREAM. If a vote must be held, they'd like to get it out of the way quickly, with a minimum amount of publicity, rather than be left dangling in the glare for a couple of agonizing weeks while Reid tries to round up 60 votes he doesn't have.
Does Reid really want to make reelection trouble for these Democrats? He's three or four seats away from giving Republicans the Senate. Would he like to remain Majority Leader in 2013 and 2015? ... 3:34 p.m.