- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2010

As President Obama and Senate Democrats push to pass an immigration bill this year, one key ingredient is still conspicuously missing: a second Republican to co-sponsor the legislation.

Most Republicans considered likeliest to join Sens. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, in writing a bill either have taken a pass or are still on the fence. Key figures say the country does not have the kind of consensus needed to tackle the issue.

“It just doesn’t exist anymore,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, the Arizona Republican who in 2007 took the lead on writing a bill with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, only to see it fail when a bipartisan majority of senators joined a filibuster against it.

Mr. Schumer and Mr. Graham are guardedly pressing ahead with a bill that would legalize illegal immigrants, establish a new system for allowing in foreign workers, and tighten controls on employment, including requiring the use of biometric identification Social Security cards.

Mr. Schumer sees a path for a bill, Mr. Graham sounds uncertain, and both of them are looking to Mr. Obama to help.

“I urge the president to write a bill and see if he can get another Republican, see if he can convince the 16 Democrats who voted no the last time,” Mr. Graham said on a “Meet the Press” appearance with Mr. Schumer late last month. “Let him do some heavy lifting here on immigration.”

To that comment, Mr. Schumer responded: “He will.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has indicated that he wants the Senate to act on the immigration issue this year. Although solid bipartisan sponsorship is not required, it has been the goal for every other immigration bill.

Mr. Schumer said that if backers can find a second Republican, the other pieces of the puzzle will fall into place.

“If we can get that second Republican, we have business and labor ready to sign on, we have all the religious community, not just the liberals but the evangelicals, we even have Lou Dobbs and Bill O’Reilly saying positive things about our proposal,” he said.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, an Indiana Republican who supported immigration bills in 2006 and 2007, was an early focus for Democrats. He said Mr. Schumer approached him last year to ask him if he was interested in joining forces, but Mr. Lugar declined.

“I indicated I was not prepared to co-sponsor or work with him on that,” Mr. Lugar said.

Former Sen. Mel Martinez, Florida Republican, would have been an obvious choice. As a Cuban immigrant, he was outspoken in calling on his party to embrace legalization and was a key author of the 2006 bill.

But Mr. Martinez retired last year and now Democrats are looking to Sen. George Lemieux, a Republican tapped by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to fill the seat, for support. Mr. Lemieux said he’s not ruling out a role in the new effort.

“We all have to be open. It’s a problem, a multifaceted problem, and that’s why we are here: to solve problems,” he said.

The 2006 and 2007 efforts show just how elusive an immigration deal can be.

In 2006, the key bargain was to grant a path to citizenship only to illegal immigrants who had been in the country the longest. That bill passed the Senate but was never taken up by the House, which instead pushed through immigration enforcement measures.

The next year, President Bush, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Kyl led a bipartisan group that reworked the entire immigration system, granting legalization to nearly all illegal immigrants and introducing a point system to determine how future legal immigrants would be selected. That bill was blocked on a bipartisan majority filibuster.

Mr. Kyl, who is now the No. 2 ranking Senate Republican, said the consensus that appeared to exist in 2007 is gone, and he said the big items he fought and won in that bill “are just not in the proposal” that Mr. Schumer and Mr. Graham released last month.

Several news reports said Mr. Schumer is hoping that Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, would be willing to join forces. Mr. Cornyn is the ranking Republican on the immigration subcommittee on which Mr. Schumer serves as chairman.

Mr. Cornyn wrote his own immigration proposal along with Mr. Kyl several years ago but did not join the 2007 efforts. Mr. Cornyn, who as a Texan has a close view of border issues, is also chairman of Senate Republicans’ campaign committee, and signing on to an immigration bill could hurt his efforts there.

“I’m interested in trying to find a middle ground but I don’t think we’re anywhere near close,” Mr. Cornyn said. He also said he’s been asking to see exactly what Mr. Schumer and Mr. Graham have in mind but that they haven’t shown him anything.

“I don’t know if that exists,” he said.

Mr. Schumer said in a statement that he is still trying to get Republicans to help write the agreement, so there is no final bill to shop to senators such as Mr. Cornyn.

“We have a framework, but not a final bill yet, although we are close. So we are not approaching Republicans with a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ mentality,” he said. “What we are really looking for is someone who’d like to flesh out the remaining details of our framework and really help us shape the bill so it can receive broad, bipartisan support.”

Texas’ other Republican senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, is also not co-sponsoring the legislation, according to her senior legislative adviser.

It likely will be easier for Mr. Schumer to find a Democrat to co-sponsor his legislation. Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, has been mentioned.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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