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Immigration's 'Gang of Eight'

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
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.

Group members Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also talked in the Senate gym about the issue.

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.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

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.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.

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