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GOP Skeptical of Immigration Talks

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
Sen. Lindsey Graham (second from left), conferring with colleagues and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, has said he no longer wants to negotiate an immigration bill with Democrats this year, leaving the majority scrambling.

Democrats are looking for a replacement for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to negotiate a comprehensive immigration reform bill, but they are having a hard time finding Republicans eager to play along.

Graham’s decision earlier this month to abandon efforts to craft an immigration deal this year has forced Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the White House to try to find a new GOP negotiator to partner with.

But even among the five lawmakers the White House and Schumer have identified as most likely to break ranks and work on a bipartisan agreement — Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), George LeMieux (Fla.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Judd Gregg (N.H.) and Dick Lugar (Ind.) — there appears to be little interest in taking up the Democrats’ cause.

Schumer is scheduled to begin a series of meetings with the targeted Republicans today and Thursday outlining what the bill looks like so far and to discuss the possibility of one or more of them joining the talks.

“I’m willing to listen, but I don’t see a lot of progress in that area, in light of the fact that it’s been made so political” by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Gregg said Tuesday.

Before he would consider signing up to negotiate a bill with Democrats, Gregg said he would need to be convinced that it was “a real effort and not a political agenda.”

Brown also showed little interest Tuesday in joining with Democrats on immigration. “We really should be focusing on jobs right now, and we’re doing everything but,” Brown said, adding that he would “look at every bill” for which his support was elicited but that stricter enforcement of border security laws already on the books is the correct approach in the short term.

Likewise, Murkowski said Tuesday that while “we really need to be focusing on jobs and the economy,” she “told Sen. Schumer I’d at least listen to what he’s got.”

Even Lugar, who has said he wants to tackle the issue this year, has rejected a comprehensive approach in favor of pursuing targeted immigration reforms.

Only LeMieux — who replaced the GOP’s last champion of immigration reform, former Sen. Mel Martinez — appeared interested in tackling the issue this year.

“I’m a person who is willing to work on issues if others are willing to work with me. ... I have a responsibility as a Senator to listen to anyone’s solution,” LeMieux said, noting that “our failure to do anything on immigration is a decision, too. Our job is to try to solve problems around here.”

But even the Florida Republican acknowledged that there is little interest in the GOP to tackle immigration. “I think I’m one of the few,” LeMieux said.

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