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Putting the Heat on Immigration Talks

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Durbin said the “gang of eight” is working to find a bipartisan solution to the complex issue of immigration policy and may have a package in the coming weeks.

“We are going to speak to Sen. Leahy and we hope we can convince him that this is a matter of urgency that he should take up as quickly as he can,” Durbin said.

One possible timeline, if the bill is unveiled April 8, could have the committee set a markup for April 11, a Senate aide said. Any senator on the committee can delay committee business for one week, and usually does. That would push the markup to April 18, setting up possible Senate passage by the Memorial Day recess.

But the timeline is far from certain. Leahy and six Republicans who recently wrote to the chairman — including Grassley — have expressed concern about dealing too quickly with the measure. They want time to read the legislation and offer ample amendments, and they don’t want to feel as if they are getting jammed.

One Democratic aide said the group is not trying to rush the committee and expects that there will be plenty of input, both from committee members during a lengthy markup and from the entire Senate where the floor debate will likely last weeks.

Asked about Leahy’s frustration with the pace Wednesday, a GOP member of the group of eight had just two words for the chairman. “Be patient,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said.

Meanwhile, a group of about 40 pro- immigration activists led a protest Thursday outside the office of Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., another member of the bipartisan group of eight.

Elizabeth Alex, director of central Maryland voter engagement for Casa In Action, said the group wanted to hold the Senate group to its self-imposed March deadline.

“We don’t want this to get pushed to the back burner. Every day that they wait, more and more immigrant families are being separated,” Alex said. “So we just came today to remind them that the time is now. They need to do what they promised to do.”

Schumer, coming out of a news conference on the budget resolution Thursday, said he did not know protesters were at his office but that he is sympathetic to their concerns and their desire for a bill to get done quickly.

“I understand people’s frustration. People have waited a long time,” Schumer said. “But we are real close for the first time to coming up with a bipartisan agreement that has a darn good chance at becoming law, and we’ll need all the support we can get.”

Schumer emphasized that the group is on pace to meet its target for legislative language by the end of March.

“We met this morning for two hours. We’re meeting again this afternoon.” Schumer said. “We’re on track.”

David Harrison contributed to this report.

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