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Graham praises Rubio as ‘game changer’ in immigration debate

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday praised fellow “Gang of Eight” member Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as a “game changer” in the immigration debate on Capitol Hill.

“Marco Rubio has been a game changer in my party,” said Graham on NBC's “Meet the Press,” predicting that the Tea Party favorite would help aid passage of a Senate immigration bill.

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Graham said the Tea Party favorite had worked to ensure that GOP concerns were addressed in the legislation.

“He will be there only if the Democrats will embrace a guest worker program and a merit-based immigration system to replace the broken one, and we'll regain our sovereignty by securing our borders and having control of jobs through E-Verify,” said Graham.

“Marco has been indispensable. 70-30, we get there,” he added.

Rubio is expected to play a key role in winning conservative support for the bipartisan Senate immigration bill being crafted, but in recent weeks has urged senators to move slowly, fearing that the legislation could falter if they do not secure public support first. Those comments led to fears that Rubio was not on board with the Senate group’s efforts, but Graham sought to allay those fears on Sunday.

Rubio will brief Republicans on progress in crafting an immigration bill during next week's policy luncheon, Graham said.

On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) also praised Rubio’s role in the talks, with McCain saying he had been “very helpful.”

“He’s reached out to conservative sides,” said McCain.

Schumer said that there would be no deal until all members of the Gang of Eight were in unison.

“All of us have said there will be no agreement until all of us agree on a big specific bill, but hopefully we can get that done,” said Schumer.

The bipartisan Senate group is close to unveiling legislation on a comprehensive immigration reform proposal, with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) saying Sunday he was hopeful language would be ready by the end of the week.

“We’re hoping to get this thing done in the next couple of weeks,” Graham said, offering a broader timeline than Schumer.

The group first unveiled their framework in January, but have since been bogged down in negotiations over a number of key provisions, including a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country.

But Graham said Senate Republicans are largely on board regarding immigration reform.

"The politics of self-deportation are behind us,” Graham said, adding that conservative opposition to granting citizenship was "impractical" given the number of illegal immigrants already in the country.