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.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., hits the gym before 6 a.m. So does Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. It was there that two of the eight members of the Senate’s immigration working group began chatting about the issue.
“It’s funny how it happened,” Durbin said. “I open up the Senate gym in the morning ... at 5:30, and he usually shows up a little bit before 6. So we’ve come to know one another.”
Rubio said he felt comfortable joining the group after talking with Durbin.
“I expressed to him my principles and where I was headed with [my legislation], and he felt that that fit in with what they were working on, so I joined those conversations,” Rubio said.
Those friendships formed over workouts have helped foster the best chance of passing an immigration overhaul in six years. After releasing a framework last month, the group hopes to have a draft bill by March. President Barack Obama is pressing them to stick to that plan. Obama has warned that if the talks stall, he will unveil his own bill, the details of which leaked this weekend.
But each member of the group is optimistic that their bill can pass with broad bipartisan support, and their own unique history with the issue may help to get it across the finish line.
Bennet came to the issue as superintendent of Denver Public Schools, where he saw the effect on families under the threat of deportation. Hispanic students made up more than half of the student body in Denver as of October. Soon after Bennet was appointed to the Senate in 2009, he met with activists and embraced changes and the DREAM Act, which would set up a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. Bennet, along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., early on saw the value of championing the issue in statewide campaigns, and Latino voters propelled him to a full term in 2010.
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.”
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