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For Immigration, Timing Could Be Tricky

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, will have to help shepherd an immigration rewrite through the Senate using regular order.

How long does “full and careful consideration” of an immigration bill take?

That’s a question Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, as well as the bipartisan group of eight senators working on legislation, will have to weigh as they move forward in the coming weeks with a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

Though it was easy for the Vermont Democrat to dismiss calls for a lengthy debate from longtime opponents of an immigration rewrite, such as Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the decision this weekend by a key member of the “gang of eight” — Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. — to demand “full and careful consideration” of any immigration bill significantly complicates Democratic leaders’ calculations.

Leahy and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., don’t want to be seen as jamming a bill through the chamber, but they also don’t want so much time to elapse that the measure loses momentum and is brought down by opponents’ ability to vilify it.

“I think there is definitely a need for a sweet spot in terms of timing,” one Senate Democratic aide said.

Even as some members of the Senate working group celebrated a crucial deal between business and labor on March 30, Rubio released a letter that he wrote to Leahy, urging the chairman to hold a fresh round of hearings so the chamber does not feel rushed into voting on complex legislation that it has not thoughtfully considered.

Rubio is the only member of the bipartisan group of eight senators drafting the bill to raise the issue with Leahy. The other members of the group are: Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer of New York, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado and Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Rubio’s letter was sparked by a deal between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO on a guest worker program. Previous efforts to change immigration policy have failed in large part because of disagreements over guest workers. While the guest worker agreement cleared a major hurdle for bipartisan negotiators, a final agreement on the bill isn’t likely to be announced until next week, at the earliest.

“We want public hearings, a committee markup and an amendment process on the floor,” Rubio spokesman Alex Conant told Roll Call’s Goppers blog Monday. “We need to get buy-in from [everyone.] We want people to understand what’s in the bill and what’s not in the bill.”

Aides said it would be a mistake to interpret Rubio’s letter as an attempt to sabotage momentum or distance himself from the group and its work.

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