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What does Kirk’s early Senate entry mean for the DREAM Act?

Mark Kirk, the Republican senator-elect from Illinois, could be sworn in as early as Nov. 29 due to special circumstances regarding his seat, which used to belong to President Obama but was handed over to Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) when Obama took office. Kirk will serve in the lame-duck session in a seat that used to be a reliable Democrat vote — meaning Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will have more difficulty passing the DREAM Act in a the lame-duck session.

Reid claims his caucus is behind him on the act, which would give some undocumented students and military service members a change to gain legal status to remain in the country. “We all support the DREAM Act,” he said on Univision in an interview that aired Sunday. “I just need a handful of Republicans to help me.”

Kirk has said he wouldn’t, despite exhaustive efforts by DREAM Act supporters to convince him otherwise. “This is not the time to do that,” Kirk said in a debate.

How important is Kirk’s vote for passing the DREAM Act? It depends on who Reid means when he says “we all support the DREAM Act.” There are 59 senators who caucus with the Democrats and 41 Republicans. Kirk will change those numbers to 58 and 42. Reid needs 60 votes to overcome a filibuster if he hopes to pass the DREAM Act.

If Reid’s right about his caucus, he would only need two Republicans to vote “yes” on the DREAM Act. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) co-sponsored the bill and would almost certainly vote for the it as a standalone measure, although he voted in September to filibuster the defense authorization bill that included it. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) has also said he would vote for the act as a standalone bill.

But if either of them or any Democrats fall through, other Republicans are tougher to pin down. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who was one of the original sponsors of the DREAM Act, seems likely to vote against it now because he favors a borders-first approach to tackling immigration problems. “The American people want the government to secure our borders, create jobs and reduce the deficit.” Hatch said when he announced plans to vote against the DREAM Act’s inclusion in the defense authorization bill.

Lugar, Hatch and Bennett were two of twelve Republicans who voted for the DREAM Act in 2007. The others still in Senate — Sam Brownback (R-Kans.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) — have been vague about whether they would support the measure as a standalone this year.

When the bill came up as a possible addition to the defense authorization bill, a few Democrats said they were not sure they would support it this time around. Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) told The Hill in September they might vote “no” on the DREAM Act.

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