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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.

Rubio views a lengthy, traditional process that includes hearings, a committee markup and an open floor debate during which senators can offer amendments as key to his ability to build and maintain conservative support for a comprehensive immigration rewrite. Indeed, the tea party favorite is viewed as one of the few people who can persuade skeptical conservatives to either support the measure or at least hold their fire.

Rubio does not have a specific timetable in mind. But anything viewed as “rushed” would violate promises he made to grass-roots conservatives and could cost his support, even if he is OK with the bill in principle.

A Democratic aide said there is no division in the group and that all the senators want an open process.

“Nothing [Rubio] said contradicts anyone’s thinking in the group,” the aide said.

However, it’s unclear exactly how many hearings will be needed to declare the process open and transparent.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and five other Republican senators said in a March letter to Leahy that the process should take months.

“Never again can Congress pass a far- reaching proposal only for the American people to find out what’s in it later,” Sessions reiterated March 30.

But pressure is mounting for quick action on the bill. About 40 pro-immigration activists led a protest last month outside Schumer’s office over the delay in producing a bill. And a major pro-immigration overhaul rally is set for April 10 on the West Front of the Capitol.

President Barack Obama has also called on the Senate group to hurry up, but he said he expects them to produce a bill and has repeatedly applauded their bipartisan efforts.

The group, which had hoped to unveil its bill before the end of March, now says next week is the goal. The senators have been reluctant to set hard deadlines for themselves, citing the complexity of drafting legislation overhauling the nation’s immigration policy.

One Democratic aide, citing a letter to Sessions from Leahy earlier last month, noted that the Senate has held more than 40 hearings on the issue of immigration in the past four Congresses.

“We’ve held hearings,” the aide said. “One substantive hearing on the legislation and a weeklong markup is about as open a process as anyone could ask for.”

But the timeline is yet to be decided.

Leahy, in his response to Sessions, said that while he wants to take up the bill as soon as possible, he also wants to consider the bill under regular order in an open and transparent process. Like Sessions, Leahy has also been critical of the group for taking so much time to draft its bill, given the fact that it is one of the president’s biggest legislative priorities this year.

David M. Drucker contributed to this report.

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