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Immigration 'Gang of 8' Pats Itself on the Back

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
The “gang of eight” — of which McCain, left, and Schumer are members — announced its immigration proposal Thursday, saying the bill represents one of Congress’ best chances to pass meaningful bipartisan legislation.

In a jovial, almost giddy news conference Thursday, the bipartisan group of eight senators behind a comprehensive immigration bill formally introduced their proposal and expressed great confidence that they would succeed in steering it to the president’s desk.

That ebullience, however, belied the hints of filibuster coming from staunch immigration overhaul opponents, who held their own news conference in an apparent attempt to blunt the impact of the unveiling by the “gang of eight.”

The events took place only hours after the collapse of the Senate’s gun control bill, and the shadow of that legislative failure hung in the air. But Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., a driving force behind both the gun and the immigration efforts, said the latter would not face the same fate.

Indeed, the bipartisan group — flanked by 21 business and labor officials, religious leaders, representatives of liberal and conservative policy groups and immigration activists — said the bill represents one of Congress’ best chances to pass meaningful bipartisan legislation.

At stake, the senators said, is not only the future of American immigration policy but also Congress’ ability to shepherd significant legislation through an increasingly dysfunctional legislative branch.

“Outside forces have helped defeat certain other initiatives in Washington, but on immigration, the opposite is proving true,” Schumer said, gesturing to the activists and leaders arrayed behind him.

“In a week when disillusionment with politics is being acutely felt, this bipartisan breakthrough offers a degree of hope,” he said. “The bill is proof the art of political compromise is not dead.”

Responding to fellow Republicans who accused the group of working in secret, the GOP senators in the group said they would welcome amendments during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup, even though they would oppose changes designed to gut the bill. The committee has scheduled two hearings and plans to hold markup votes in the first week of May, Schumer said. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will bring it up on the Senate floor by June, he said.

Addressing the tea party supporters who helped elect him to the Senate in 2010, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said, “Both Republican and Democrats have failed to enforce the law, and as a result, we do have millions of people that are here against our immigration laws, but we’re not going to deport them. ... We all wish we didn’t have this problem, but we do.”

The bill would put most of the 11 million people living in the country illegally on a 13-year path to citizenship, provided the government improves border security, puts in place an employment verification system and upgrades its entry-exit systems at airports and seaports.

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