McCain: Next few weeks a 'critical time in the life or death' of immigration reform

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the members of the "Gang of Eight" who crafted immigration reform legislation in the Senate, said Tuesday that the time following the House of Representatives' return from summer recess will be critical "in the life or death" of immigration reform.

McCain discussed the bill at a town-hall meeting with his junior colleague, Sen. Jeff Flake, (R) in their home state at a roundtable focused on the issue, hosted by The Arizona Republic, 12 News, and azcentral.com.

Flake is another member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” which also includes Sens. Michael Bennet, (D-Colo.), Dick Durbin, (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), Robert Menendez, (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.), and Charles Schumer, (D-N.Y.). The group wrote and championed the immigration reform bill through the upper chamber in June. The final vote was 68-32.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he won’t take it up in the House.

“I remain guardedly optimistic,” McCain said about the House advancing immigration reform. The senator said he hopes the House will pass legislation so the two chambers can go to conference and compromise on a single bill that will eventually go to the president.

Flake made clear that he and McCain never thought the House would consider the Senate’s version as is.

“The bill became much better when it went through the Judiciary Committee,” Flake said. “It became better when it went through the Senate floor. I hope the House improves it.”

President Obama said earlier this month that the Senate version must pass the GOP-controlled House.

Enhanced border security, an E-Verify system for employers and a pathway to citizenship for immigrants already living illegally in the United States are some of the notable provisions of the comprehensive bill, which is more than 1,000 pages.

Over the next decade, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicts the legislation would lead to more than 10 million additional people living in the United States. The CBO also projects the bill would decrease the federal budget deficit by $197 billion.

“It’s not a perfect piece of legislation, but I do believe that this is a compromise in some cases that all of us can support,” McCain said.

Flake said he’s going to visit the U.S.'s southern border tomorrow.

--This report was updated at 3:59 p.m.