From left, Sens. John McCain , Charles E. Schumer , Richard J. Durbin , Marco Rubio and Robert Menendez hold a news conference in January to announce bipartisan agreement on the principals of a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
For more than a decade, Durbin has been pushing a version of his DREAM Act, and he has become the unofficial representative in the Senate of so-called Dreamers, who have been increasingly vocal about their plight. Durbin is also a veteran of past immigration overhaul fights and has good relationships with the other members of the group. He said he sought out Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., after the elections to discuss the issue and see what could be done: “We’ve been in this business for a while, every immigration bill that’s been around since I was elected I’ve played [at least] a small part in, and John’s been at the table every time.”
A staunch conservative, Flake is a good example of a Republican from a heavily Hispanic state who sees the issue as an imperative for national policy. As a House member, Flake worked with Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., on immigration issues in the last major push in 2007. He cooled to comprehensive overhaul during his bid for the Senate last year, but he said recently that his current involvement should be expected. “If you’re from Arizona and you’re not involved in something of this magnitude and you can be, then you’re not representing your state very well,” he said.
A longtime supporter of immigration overhaul, Graham joined the group despite the possibility of a primary challenger in his 2014 race. Graham said it would be disingenuous and “bad politically” for him not to be part of the group. “I’m associated with the issue,” he said. The issue may not play well in South Carolina, but Graham notes his high-profile criticism of the White House’s handling of the Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attack. “I have no problem pushing the president on Benghazi, no problem standing up to a lot of his policies,” Graham said. But, “It’s just as good politics for me to solve a hard problem working with the president and Democrats.”
Getting a bill into law could cement McCain’s legacy in the Senate and help the Republican Party remain competitive in future elections as the number of Hispanic voters increases. But McCain downplayed that aspect when asked about it. “I’ve been involved with it for many years, and I think it’s ripening,” he said. “And when you’re from a state like mine, it’s particularly important.” Like Flake, McCain distanced himself from a comprehensive overhaul during his 2010 re-election campaign and in his 2008 campaign for president. Still, it remains to be seen whether McCain commands enough influence to bring along more GOP votes in the House and Senate.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.