Landscape shifts on immigration

Landscape shifts on immigration

A bipartisan group of senators on Monday said the political landscape for immigration reform has changed, boosting their hopes for passing a bill.

Recent elections have changed his party’s view on immigration, said Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJuan Williams: Biden's promises on women are a big deal Ernst calls for public presidential campaign funds to go to masks, protective equipment President Trump is right — Now's the time for 'all hands on deck' MORE, a Republican from Arizona who led an unsuccessful push to reform the nation’s immigration laws in 2006 and 2007.

McCain said his party’s leaders and strategists are convinced they need to agree to some measure of reform to boost the party’s image among Hispanic voters, who voted overwhelmingly for President Obama in November.

“As I’ve stated before, elections, elections,” said McCain, who along with four colleagues spoke out at a Monday afternoon Capitol Hill press conference about a set of bipartisan principles for reform they had released with three other senators a day earlier.

“The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens, and we realize there are many issues in which we think we are in agreement with our Hispanic citizens, but this is a pre-eminent issue for those citizens,” said McCain, his party’s standard-bearer in the 2008 presidential election.

“We cannot continue as a nation with 11 million people residing in the shadows, and we have to address the issue and it has to be done in a bipartisan fashion,” McCain said.

McCain's point was underscored by Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioLessons from the front line — Florida's fight with sea level rise SNAP, airlines among final hurdles to coronavirus stimulus deal Senior State Department official headed to Peru to bring home stranded Americans, Rubio says MORE's (R-Fla.) participation in the bipartisan Senate group. Rubio is seen as a leading contender for his party's presidential nomination in 2016, and his endorsement of the proposals gives the group some cover from conservative criticism. 

The four principles unveiled late Sunday include granting temporary legal status and creating a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, increasing visas for skilled workers, establishing an employer verification program and setting up a guest-worker program for jobs that cannot be filled by American citizens.

They stem from negotiations Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTexas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill Pelosi not invited by Trump to White House coronavirus relief bill's signing COVID-19, Bill Barr and the American authoritarian tradition MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Judiciary immigration subcommittee, kick-started with Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCampaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tests positive for coronavirus Schumer: Senate should 'explore' remote voting if coronavirus sparks lengthy break MORE (R-S.C.) after the election. Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinLegal immigrants at risk of losing status during coronavirus pandemic Senate rejects GOP attempt to change unemployment benefits in coronavirus stimulus bill Senators pen op-ed calling for remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic MORE (D-Ill.), Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezHillicon Valley: Facebook launches portal for coronavirus information | EU sees spike in Russian misinformation on outbreak | Senate Dem bill would encourage mail-in voting | Lawmakers question safety of Google virus website Democratic senators press Google over privacy of coronavirus screening site Menendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees MORE (D-N.J.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetHillicon Valley: Facebook launches portal for coronavirus information | EU sees spike in Russian misinformation on outbreak | Senate Dem bill would encourage mail-in voting | Lawmakers question safety of Google virus website We need a massive economic response to counter the threat of the coronavirus Senator calls for cybersecurity review at health agencies after hacking incident MORE (D-Colo.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcSally campaign to suspend TV ads, canvassing amid pandemic Coronavirus isn't the only reason Congress should spend less time in DC Trump Jr. says he inherited 'Tourette's of the thumbs' from his father MORE (R-Ariz.) have endorsed it.

“The public’s attitude has changed in four years,” said Schumer. “Now they much prefer a comprehensive solution including a path to citizenship as well as fixing the border and doing the things we talked about.

“The public is yearning for real change now,” he said.

The White House on Monday welcomed the principles, with press secretary Jay Carney describing the group's endorsement of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants as "a big deal."

While Schumer and McCain said the landscape on immigration reform had shifted, signs of the difficult debate ahead appeared throughout the day.

Shortly after their press conference, Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsAlabama postpones March 31 GOP Senate runoff Biden has broken all the 'rules' of presidential primaries The Hill's Campaign Report: Defiant Sanders vows to stay in race MORE (R-Ala.), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBottom line The biggest political upsets of the decade Red-state governor races put both parties on edge MORE (R-La.) criticized the Senate group’s proposal.

Sessions compared the latest framework to the 1986 immigration law that granted legal residency to millions of illegal immigrants with the pledge the nation’s borders would be secured.

“That was the promise that was made in 1986, when the bill did pass. But it did not fulfill its promise,” Sessions said. 

“So once again, I think that we’re in a situation where the promise will be made, that people will be given immediate regularized status and they won’t be given full rights of citizenship until certain laws are enforced and don’t worry about it,” he added. “But questions do need to be asked, and we will ask those questions.”

Vitter said he is also skeptical of the bipartisan principles presented Monday by McCain, Schumer, Rubio, Durbin and Menendez.

“What heightens my concern is that we have history as a guide and history suggests this brand of so-called comprehensive immigration reform, this promise of enforcement as long as we have an amnesty, all those things put together is a recipe for failure,” Vitter said.

The sponsors have only agreed to a set of principles and still have to draft legislation, which will require hours of painstaking negotiation. The group hopes to draft a bill by March 1 and send it to the Judiciary Committee for hearings.
Schumer has discussed the group’s principles with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyLawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after trillion bill Democrats seek to increase supplemental funding bill to 0 billion Five sticking points to a T coronavirus deal MORE (D-Vt.), who will be key to moving it through the panel.
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidGOP embraces big stimulus after years of decrying it Five Latinas who could be Biden's running mate Winners and losers from Super Tuesday MORE (D-Nev.), who relied on a strong turnout of Hispanic voters to win tough re-election race in 2010, praised the framework and promised to play an active role in the debate.
“I applaud [the bipartisan group of eight] Senators for setting partisanship aside to tackle a crucial issue facing our nation. This is a positive first step,” he said. “I pledge that I will do everything in my power as Majority Leader to get a bill across the finish line.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike Trump signs T coronavirus relief package Pelosi not invited by Trump to White House coronavirus relief bill's signing MORE (Ky.) urged Reid to move immigration reform through the Judiciary Committee and not bring it straight to the floor.
“This effort is too important to be written in a back room and sent to the floor with a take-it-or-leave it approach,” he said.
Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerThe Pelosi administration Coronavirus spending will come amid huge deficits Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges MORE (R-Ohio) offered a less enthusiastic response than Reid. He said the House would review the Senate’s work but stopped short of calling for comprehensive immigration reform. 
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, panned the Senate proposal as amnesty and warned that it would encourage more illegal immigration.
But other past opponents of comprehensive immigration reform expressed a willingness to reconsider the issue.
Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyLobbying blitz yields wins for airlines, corporations, banks, unions Chances for drug pricing, surprise billing action fade until November Stimulus talks to miss McConnell's Monday deadline MORE (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, who voted against immigration reform bills in 2006 and 2007, praised his colleagues for trying to find a long-term solution.
“There’s a lot to be said for these members working together and moving the issue forward,” he said. “And, while I especially appreciate the group’s focus on legal avenues of immigration, there are a lot of questions to be answered on even the most mundane of topics.”
He expressed concern over the lack of detail for a proposed employment verification system.

Updated at 7:30 p.m.