Two key senators in the bipartisan group that crafted a compromise over immigration reform detailed Thursday the steps the group took to give their measure its best shot at success. Past efforts, most recently in 2007, failed to garner enough support for passage, even as the number of undocumented immigrants swelled to 11 million and states took a piecemeal approach to cope with the problem in the face of federal abdication of the issue.
But longtime dealmakers Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., explained to reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor why this attempt is different.
Finding the Red Lines
"There's no way of getting this job done without giving people a path to citizenship," McCain said. And though many say that the conservatively controlled House will never support such a provision, McCain and Schumer are convinced they've made it such an arduous journey that Republicans will be able to get behind it. For example, in addition to a 13-year time period before citizenship might be granted, along with a series of fines, Schumer said that, "for the first time, you have to learn English."
"And a lot of our friends in the Hispanic community, when they look at what's required along that path for citizenship, they're not very happy," said McCain. "That's what compromise is called."
Pro-active Outreach to Conservatives
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who was elected in 2010 with tea party support, has lead the way on conservative outreach, launching a myth-busting website and appearing for countless interviews on conservative media to prevent the spread of misinformation. But McCain said Thursday he called Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the former vice presidential candidate, to thank him for speaking in support of immigration reform earlier in the week.
Building Broad Support
By not settling for the bare minimum of votes that they would need for passage, the senators strengthen their hand in the House – if conservative senators can get on board, House members in opposition sounds more unfounded.
"If we were to pass this bill with say, over 50 Democratic votes, which I do think is possible because it's got widespread support on the Democratic side and only eight or nine Republican votes, it would pass and we would get to 60, but it would bode poorly for the House," said Schumer. "And I think the Democrats in the room were mindful of this."
McCain says he thinks it's possible their measure could get support from a majority of senators in each party.
Keeping Egos in Check
The gang of eight is a mix of veteran and rookie senators, many of whom have a reputation for hogging the spotlight even among those in the Senate. But two of the biggest names, Schumer and McCain, put on a real show of friendship Thursday, taking turns to answer questions, complimenting each other on their responses and poking gentle fun at each other. It was clear the two men are mindful that any one member who tries to take outsized credit for the proposal could end up undermining the effort and have decided to put passage above headlines.
Craft Solid Policy
There's a decade or more of policy research that identifies and tries to solve the problems in the country's current immigration system. Comprehensive reform is complicated, layered and consists of economic, social and security policy. But the group has taken the time to do their homework, from reaching out to affected groups to, in Schumer's case, taking a trip to the actual border to see firsthand what someone like McCain deals with on a daily basis as a leader in a border state. This approach makes it less likely groups with longstanding interest in change would oppose their proposal or dismiss it as naïve, political or unworkable.