The time has come for immigration reform

Comprehensive immigration reform will get 75 votes in the Senate, making it harder for conservatives to kill it in the House.

The Senate Judiciary Committee easily brushed aside efforts from Republicans and Democrats to amend the base bill with potential poison pills, a sure sign that it has real momentum. While the markup is scheduled to go on for three more weeks, the committee should agree to just bring the whole bill, un-amended, to the Senate floor and dispense with the needless drama.

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The meltdown at the Heritage Foundation has made it easier for main-stream conservatives to vote for the bill in the upper chamber. A report by the conservative think tank that put the cost of the Gang of Eight bill at 6.3 trillion dollars was condemned by every other right-leaning organization in Washington. Revelations that the author of the study was linked to white-supremacist groups didn’t help the organization or other opponents of the bill.

A rare, if loose, coalition of business groups, labor, evangelical Christians and immigration activists have banded together to urge passage of this comprehensive bill. This coalition includes the conservative American Action Forum and the liberal Center for American Progress, the conservative Americans for Tax Reform and the liberal National Immigration Law Center, the Southern Baptists and the Catholic Church, the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, conservative former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and liberal former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. If you are not part of this coalition, you are truly outside of the political mainstream.

That is where the Heritage Foundation finds itself today, which might explain why it is looking for a public relations firm to help with its damaged image.

Senators are looking for reasons to vote for this legislation, not against it. Some are taking tough votes on other issues to please conservative constituencies because they want to have to enough wiggle room to vote for final passage of comprehensive immigration reform once it hits the Senate floor.

They probably don’t need to worry that much.

Passing comprehensive immigration reform is popular, according to the latest polls. There is widespread acknowledgment that our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. Even among the conservative base, there is reluctant acceptance that we aren’t going to kick 11 million undocumented workers out of the country, and if we did, our economy would completely collapse.

For Republicans, especially those who want to win national elections, getting this legislation to the president’s desk has become an urgent priority. That’s why Haley Barbour, Karl Rove and Grover Norquist — all hard-nosed political strategists — are putting their considerable political reputations on the line.

For Gang of Eight members like Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), there is a home-grown priority to final passage. The demographics of their state are changing and changing rapidly. They can see the writing on the wall for a GOP that is perceived to be hostile to Hispanic voters. That future is not very bright.

Rubio and his team have been masterful. They have confronted the critics, and proved to be tough enough debaters to put the haters back on their heels. When Rubio can go toe to toe with Rush Limbaugh and come out the winner, you know he is ready for prime time.

For the president and for Democrats, they know that they have reached the end of the string. President Obama promised immigration reform when he first got elected to the White with huge majorities in the House and Senate. But he chose to focus on other issues, and he kicked his Hispanic base to the curb.

That part of his coalition is no longer content to wait and let the president do just about anything else other than play politics with the issue. But Hispanic voters should remember that when push came to shove, it was Senate Republicans who pushed this legislation, not the president, who is quite rightly taking a back seat to Rubio and the Gang of Eight.

Big momentum will carry comprehensive immigration reform through the Senate. Let’s hope there will be enough big mo’ to get it through the House.