Unlike his work opposing the gun measure, Graham is leading the effort to defend the tentative agreement that the eight senators have crafted and is under final review.
“We’ll try to beat back amendments that are designed to kill the bill, except [for] good ideas that make it better, and fight for the bill. That’s all you can do,” Graham said.
The plan is to unveil the immigration measure by early next week and hold a public hearing before the Judiciary Committee shortly thereafter.
After that, the panel is expected to consider many amendments — all of which will give an early indication of how likely it is that the new coalition will hold together. The last effort at a comprehensive immigration package, in June 2007, fell apart amid a flurry of amendments from the liberal and conservative wings of each party.
“That will be the great crucible,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), the lead Democratic negotiator, said of the legislation’s test before the Judiciary Committee.
What has happened in the interim is the 2012 election.
Many Republicans believe that their stance against a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants became so politically toxic that it alienated Latino voters, who constitute a rapidly growing segment of the electorate.
“This time around, there’s been a sea change on the Republican side,” Graham said.
Despite that, some senior Republicans still worry that the legislation will crumble under its own weight by trying to fit in so many pieces of the issue.
“The difficulty is trying to pass a comprehensive bill. Because the more things you put together, the more opponents you develop,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said.
Juliet Eilperin and Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.
Discuss this topic and other political issues in the politics discussion forums.