Heading into Thursday’s meeting at the White House on immigration, Sen. Chuck Schumer — the Democrats' point man on the issue — says he's "optimistic" about producing legislation this year on the hot-button issue.
But the reality of the Senate's schedule — as well as finding another Republican co-sponsor to join forces with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the GOP's champion on the issue — could prove daunting as the Senate attempts to push forward.
"Lindsey Graham and I are working. We only have a couple of more things to get done — and they're hard. One of them is to get another Republican on the bill. One is to finally deal with the issue of getting business and labor on the same side on low-wage workers," Schumer said Wednesday, before proclaiming that he and Graham were "real close" to a deal.
Graham has called for a higher level of engagement from the White House, telling POLITICO on Tuesday that on immigration, “at the end of the day, the president needs to step it up a little bit. One line in the State of the Union is not going to do it.” On Wednesday, Schumer called the South Carolina Republican "good, generous and courageous" in trying to get an immigration bill done.
Yet the problem remains that Graham has long insisted on having another GOP co-sponsor and while Schumer said there are four or five senators in play, no one has agreed yet to get on board.
"We will not pass an immigration bill unless it's bipartisan. I think everyone agrees with that. Everyone agrees to put a bill on the floor of the Senate and not have it pass, as happened a few years ago, is a bad idea," Schumer said.
Before retiring, former Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) had been widely viewed as the Republican who would help co-sponsor an immigration bill. His successor, George LeMieux, told POLITICOon Wednesday he had not been approached about signing onto the bill, but that the issue is important and he would be "happy to look" at a proposal.
"My feeling on immigration reform is that the system is broken. We need to do something about it. There was a huge effort to do something about it from people with good minds on both sides and it failed. But we have a continuing need to address border security. We have a continuing need to figure out a solution to what we're going to do with the 10.8 million people who are in this country illegally," LeMieux said. "I'm a person who's here to try to solve problems and if there's a thoughtful piece of legislation that's worked out, I'm happy to look at it."
LeMieux added that though he has not been approached by Graham specifically on immigration, he is working with him on several other issues, so the possibility of cooperation is there.
The other challenge facing a comprehensive bill is the Senate schedule, which is still crammed with the Democrats' jobs agenda, health care reform and, potentially, a climate change bill.
Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) was asked Wednesday whether he thought there was room on the legislative calendar for a comprehensive immigration bill.
"There is — if we can get enough agreement on the other side of the aisle," Durbin said. "I favor [comprehensive reform]. Sen. Schumer is our leader on this. He's looking for Republican support to make it happen."