And, having concluded that talks to advance a bipartisan immigration overhaul are stalled and party lines in the Senate are hardening, Reid (D-Nev.) has told Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) to strike a deal in three weeks or Democrats will bring their own bill forward, aides and lobbyists said Thursday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agreed to hold a vote before congressional elections in November if the Senate passes a bill, aides said.
The developments underscore election-year realities and appear to reflect in part a political calculation by some Democrats: even if their bill fails, a debate could rally their base and mobilize Hispanic voters against GOP lawmakers in some districts.
In recent weeks, key Democratic supporters including Latino groups, labor unions and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have stepped up pressure on Reid and Obama to tackle the immigration question, as Obama pledged to do in the 2008 presidential race and as Reid has committed to supporters in his Hispanic-heavy home state, where he faces an uphill re-election battle.
As pressure on Democrats has increased, Graham has cooled his support for a measure that would strengthen border enforcement, crack down on employers who exploit illegal workers and lay down a path for legalization or expulsion of roughly 12 million illegal immigrants. Instead, he has made clear in interviews that his priority is an energy and climate bill, and he has blasted the White House for failing to lay the groundwork for a Schumer-Graham package.
Immigration advocates said Graham's new stance decreases the odds that an immigration overhaul will pass the Senate. If Democrats choose to advance a bill with no Republican backing, however, they could attempt to shake loose support from nine or 10 Republican senators, using language voted on recently by the House and debated by the Senate in 2006 and 2007.
"They [Democrats] can fold their tent, say Lindsey Graham doesn't want to go ahead, or they can say, 'We're the ones in the majority, in the White House, let's lean into it, see if we can make it harder for them [Republicans] to say no,' " said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, an umbrella pro-immigration advocacy group.
Obama has joined the fray, calling Republican Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), George LeMieux (Fla.), Richard G. Lugar (Ind.) and Judd Gregg (N.H.) to solicit their support on Tuesday, his spokesman said.
Adding fuel to the volatile political mix, Arizona's legislature recently sent Gov. Jan Brewer (R) legislation that would give police in that state the broadest power in the nation to check the status of people they suspect are illegal immigrants, galvanizing activists on both sides.
With that battle brewing in his home state, Sen. John McCain (R) -- who also is facing a primary challenge this year -- and fellow Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (R) threatened to filibuster any deal that did not secure borders first.
Republicans appeared to welcome a fight. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that at a time when one in 10 Americans are unemployed, "There is little enthusiasm in Congress to pass legislation that would legalize millions of unlawful residents to compete with out-of-work Americans for needed jobs."
He added, "One has to ask: are members raising the idea of comprehensive reform now because they believe the majority of Americans truly want it, or because it serves a specific political purpose in a tough election year?"
mods: please note I didn't post the first 3 paragraphs of the article b/c they were in my other post