Pressure builds on Senate group to unveil immigration reform specifics

A bipartisan Senate group working on immigration reform plans to set a timeline for unveiling legislation, as it feels subtle pressure from the chairman of the Judiciary Committee to act.

ADVERTISEMENT
Sen. John McCainJohn McCainPelosi, Dems rush to defense of Wasserman Schultz Reid: We're not breaking the budget deal Senate votes to block USDA catfish inspections MORE (R-Ariz.), a lead negotiator of the ad hoc group on immigration reform, says he and his colleagues realize the clock is ticking. They hope to soon have a timeline for unveiling legislation.

“We know time is of the essence. Sometime in the next few weeks we will have a definite timeline. We got a couple of very big issues to resolve,” McCain told The Hill.

A Democratic source familiar with the talks said the group may unveil the bill itself before the end of the month.

Either way, time is running short. Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerOvernight Healthcare: House, Senate on collision course over Zika funding Ryan goes all-in on Puerto Rico Cruz's dad: Trump 'would be worse than Hillary Clinton' MORE (D-N.Y.), McCain’s negotiating partner, said he expected to have a bipartisan bill sometime in March. There are only three weeks left until Congress leaves for a two-week Easter recess on March 22.

Lawmakers and groups advocating for reform say McCain, Schumer and their partners, Sens. Marco RubioMarco RubioSenate GOP ties Iran sanctions fight to defense bill Analysis: Pa. senator missed most Budget Committee hearings Susana Martinez fires back at Trump MORE (R-Fla.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamTrump: Romney 'walks like a penguin' Romney should endorse Clinton Graham: I'm still not supporting Trump MORE (R-S.C.), Dick DurbinDick DurbinReid: 'Lay off' Sanders criticism Senators tout 4.5B defense spending bill that sticks to budget Lawmakers seek changes in TSA PreCheck program MORE (D-Ill.), Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeOvernight Defense: Terrorism suspected in EgyptAir crash; McCain details funding plans Overnight Finance: Path clears for Puerto Rico bill | GOP senator casts doubt on IRS impeachment | Senate approves .1B for Zika Overnight Tech: Trade groups press NC on bathroom law MORE (R-Ariz.) and Michael BennetMichael BennetLawmakers push to elevate Cyber Command in Senate defense bill GOP ad calls Clinton 'a living history of scandal' Trump, GOP agree: ObamaCare helps us MORE (D-Colo.), need to show substantial progress before the end of the month.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) has turned over authorship of immigration reform to the group but his patience is limited. He is eager to move shortly after the committee marks up a series of gun-violence bills this month.

Leahy put pressure on Schumer and Sen. Tom CoburnTom CoburnMcCain: No third-party foes coming for Trump Tough choice for vulnerable GOP senators: Embrace or reject Trump The Trail 2016: Donald and the Supremes MORE (R-Okla.) to speed up their talks over expanding background checks for private gun sales when he scheduled a legislative markup this past week. The chairman delayed the session to give Schumer more time but the message was clear: time is in short supply.

The same is true of immigration reform.

“I think April is probably the markup month they’re looking at and then to the floor in either May or June,” said Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress.

Kelley said Leahy wants to see real progress from Schumer, McCain and Rubio before the recess.

“Leahy’s really committed to getting this done and he’s going to watch it carefully and he’s going to want to keep measuring progress. You may not get the final grade but you’ll get an interim report before the recess. I would expect they’re going to want to see real progress,” she said.

“I don’t think his patience will be endless,” a Democratic aide said of Leahy.

One of the biggest challenges in the immigration negotiations is how to handle future flows of immigrant workers. Controversy over a guest-worker program derailed comprehensive reform when the Senate last debated it in 2007.

“I think the problem for immigration reform will be about future flow, access to future labor,” said Graham. “The reason you have 11 million illegal workers is that lot of employers can’t find labor, so we got to address that.”

Republicans have forgiven President Obama for a draft White House immigration proposal that leaked to the media last month. Republican lawmakers said at the time the draft could undermine Senate talks.

But the touchy subject did not even come up for discussion at a recent meeting between Obama, McCain and Graham.

“The discussion we had was on a higher level,” McCain said.

“No apologies were needed,” Graham said of the president. “He was very candid and sincere about wanting to lend the weight of his office to the cause. That was very encouraging to me. The president was really in a problem-solving mode.”

Some Republicans have questioned whether Obama is pushing reform legislation in good faith.

“I don’t believe President Obama wants an immigration bill to pass, instead I think he wants a political issue,” Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzEleven states sue Obama over transgender bathroom directive Poll: Clinton leads Trump in Wisconsin by double digits Texas to sue over Obama's transgender bathroom directive MORE (R-Texas) said last month. “His objective is to push so much on the table that he forces Republicans walk away from the table because then he wants to use that issue in 2014 and 2016 as a divisive wedge issue.”