There’s a new bipartisan gang in town known as the Gang of 8: Eight senators who will unveil an immigration overhaul Monday.
Comprised of four Republicans and four Democrats, the group came together remarkably quickly on an emotional and divisive issue that lawmakers have struggled to deal with for decades. What changed, obviously, was the 2012 election.
But why these eight senators? Here’s a breakdown of everyone in the “Gang of Eight” and their reasons for getting involved.
* Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.): The Cuban-American Rubio is positioning himself to run for president in 2016 as a candidate with broad demographic appeal, and he has been pushing for his own immigration reform plan in recent months. Rubio initially resisted the group’s approach in favor of his own policy, but he joined in December after receiving assurances that the proposal would line up with his own ideas. For the rest of the group, having a popular conservative and rising Republican star gives the bill a much better chance at passage. For Rubio, it means not getting left out of what could well become law.
* Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.): Flake’s libertarian-oriented brand of conservatism has always included a pro-immigration stance. It was the main issue rival Wil Cardon used against him in a Senate primary last year. In 2007, he worked with Rep. Luis Guitierrez (D-Ill.) on a guest worker program and path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. At the same time, as a Republican in Arizona he’s also concerned about border security. Like Texas, Arizona has a large and increasing Hispanic population; Flake’s electoral future is likely a consideration here too.
* Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): McCain is a long-time advocate of immigration reform who tried and failed to push a comprehensive overhaul back in 2006. He backed off in the 2008 election and into 2010, seeing that his position was toxic with the Republican base. (Who could forget McCain’s “complete the dang fence” ad?) Now that the party has come around, it makes perfect sense that McCain will help lead the effort.
* Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): Like Flake and McCain, Graham has pushed for immigration reform before and has consistently argued that the GOP can’t survive without it. Unlike either of them, he is very vulnerable to a conservative primary challenge next year. “No one will argue that Sen. Graham is taking the lead on this because of some political re-election calculation,” said Walter Whetsell, a longtime South Carolina Republican strategist. “There are still many Republican voters in South Carolina that believe in a fairly rigid approach.” But, Whetsell added, as the dynamic in the party shifts, Graham’s consistency on the issue could ultimately serve him well.
* Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.): Durbin authored the original DREAM Act giving undocumented young students residency and a path to citizenship; he will want to be involved to make sure a bipartisan agreement isn’t too watered down. He’s also the Senate Majority Whip, so he will play a key role in rounding up Democratic votes for whatever the actual legislation winds up looking like.
* Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.): Menendez is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and has long been passionate on this issue. He introduced his own comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2010, when he was the only Hispanic member of the Senate. He was an early proponent of the DREAM Act, and along with Durbin has ties to pro-reform groups that will want to see a real pathway to citizenship.
* Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.): Schumer is the chairman of the Refugees and Border Security subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee. He took over for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who tried and failed to pass a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration framework in 2007. Schumer and Graham attempted bipartisan talks in 2010. And, Schumer is widely regarded as the next Democratic Senate leader so delivering on such a major issue would be (another) feather in his cap.
* Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.): Bennet has only been in the Senate since 2010, but he’s already been staking out ground as a bipartisan reformer on the issue. It has relevance in Colorado, which is 20 percent Hispanic and ranks 12th in the nation for undocumented immigrants. Bennet recently developed a state compact on immigration with former Republican senator Hank Brown that calls for federal action and a “sensible path forward” for some undocumented immigrants. Bennet is also the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and could have his eye on the politics of a deal.
Roz Helderman contributed to this report.
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