Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and David Vitter (La.), who had helped lead efforts to scuttle comprehensive immigration legislation in 2007, despite its support from President George W. Bush, came to the Senate floor to say they have deep reservations.
Particularly problematic for the bipartisan group was a statement from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who had participated in some of the gang’s early negotiations. It indicated that he could not sign on to the final product because it contemplates a “policy that will grant special benefits to illegal immigrants based on their unlawful presence in the country.”
But Republican leaders greeted the proposal with more encouragement.
Boehner — who has said that Congress must deal with immigration this year — said he welcomed the proposal and looked forward to reviewing it.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised the group for its “hard work” and called for an open Senate process to review any legislation that results.
Election leads to shift
The dramatic reversal in Republican opinion on the emotional issue can be traced directly to November’s presidential vote, in which Obama won the support of seven in 10 Latino voters, according to exit polls.
“Elections,” McCain said Monday to explain what had changed within his party. “The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens. And we realize there are many issues in which we think we are in agreement with our Hispanic citizens, but this is a preeminent issue with those citizens.”
The framework drew praise from both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a key business lobby, and the AFL-CIO union.
A coalition of immigration advocates announced plans Monday for a major rally in support of comprehensive reform April 10 in Washington, an event designed to “put a face” on the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants.
At a news conference, the group, composed of labor and faith leaders as well as Hispanic, Asian and African American activists, reacted enthusiastically to the bipartisan group’s principles.
David Nakamura and Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.