Leahy: Pick up the pace on immigration bill

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) hit President Obama and the bipartisan Group of Eight over the progress of an immigration bill in a statement issued Wednesday, saying closed-door negotiations were delaying progress on a comprehensive bill.

“Because we do not yet have legislative language to debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee will not be able to report a comprehensive immigration bill by the end of April, which was my goal,” Leahy said in the statement.

Members of the Group of Eight had originally planned to release draft language by the end of the month. But senators involved in the talks now say they will likely release the legislation after the upcoming two-week Easter recess, providing political cover for members who will spend the break in their home districts.

While Leahy chairs the committee through which the immigration bill will travel, he is not part of the group of bipartisan senators crafting a bill. The statement seemed to hint at frustrations with the group, noting that the legislation was being crafted in "secret, closed door discussions."

“For months I have urged the president to send his proposal for comprehensive immigration reform to the Senate,” Leahy said. “I understand he has delayed releasing it at the request of a few senators who are engaged in secret, closed-door discussions on their own proposal and who committed to completing it by the beginning of March. That deadline and others have come and gone.”

Leahy added that the group had delayed legislative work on immigration reform "at least a month."

“Without legislative language, there is nothing for the Judiciary Committee to consider this week at our mark up,” he said. “The upcoming recess period would have allowed all members of the committee and the American people to review the legislation."

The Judiciary Committee has been busy, however. On Wednesday, it held its second hearing of the week on potential immigration reform.

Leahy's statement comes a day after a group of Republicans sent him a letter urging the senator to slow the bill's path through Congress. That letter, signed by Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), warned fast-tracking immigration reform was "a prescription for a real problem.”

“The last time Congress considered legislation of this magnitude that was written behind closed doors and passed with no process, it resulted in sweeping changes to our healthcare system, the negative consequences of which are only now coming to light,” the six GOP senators wrote.

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