The Gang of Eight may make a comeback, even if not with the original cast.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who ran in the presidential primary for the 2016 election, says he is intent on relaunching the bipartisan Senate group that drafted a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013.
Graham says he will put his plan in action in 2017, because he is sure that the political terrain in Washington D.C. will be ripe for reforming immigration policy, given what he is certain there will be heavy GOP losses in the November election thanks to a fed-up Latino electorate.
“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do in 2017,” Graham said, according to Politico. “I’m going to take the Gang of Eight bill out, dust it off and ask anybody and everybody who wants to work with me to make it better to do so.”
Graham was part of the original group, which included four Republicans and four Democrats. The sweeping measure passed in the Senate, which at the time had a Democratic majority, but stalled in the House, where Republicans were the majority and where a conservative faction holds great sway. The measure sought, among other things, to tighten border security as well as give undocumented immigrants who met a strict set of criteria a chance to legalize their status.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, who could be the new majority leader if Democrats win back the majority in the upper chamber in November, has said he wants to move forward on another immigration reform effort after the election, Politico said.
But at least two GOP senators – Marco Rubio of Florida and John McCain of Arizona – who were part the Gang of Eight and now are facing reelection have backed away from the 2013 measure.
Rubio, who essentially became the face of the Gang of Eight, later said that a comprehensive approach was not feasible and that the thorny issue might best be addressed in a piecemeal fashion.
“I don’t believe that a comprehensive approach can pass, nor do I believe at this point, given everything that’s transpired, that it’s the right way forward,” Politico quoted Rubio as saying.
McCain said he just doesn’t want to talk about the issue right now.
“All I focus on is my election. Then I set the agenda for the next year,” he said to Politico. “I’m very superstitious about that.”
The perception among many lawmakers and political and immigration experts is that an Election Day GOP loss that ends up being linked – even in part – to Latino voters can set the stage for another serious effort to revamp the immigration system, particularly in a way that gives undocumented immigrants a chance to legalize their status.
Many experts and lawmakers believe presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s hard line rhetoric about immigrants and a deportation army could send Latinos and immigrants of all nationalities out to the polls in large or record numbers.
FWD.us, a group started by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that pushes for immigration reform, has plans to implement an aggressive campaign after the election to Congress to work on another measure.
Some Republicans, such as David Perdue of Georgia and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who were elected to the Senate in 2014 and have large Latino constituents, want Congress to get back to work on generally immigrant-friendly reform measures, Politico notes.
“The hour [when] we can move it, we’ve got to move it,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), another member of the Gang of Eight, said to Politico. “If they don’t [understand the urgency], we’ll do another autopsy after the next election and we’ll determine we’ve got to do it.”
The autopsy was what the GOP called the analysis the Republican National Committee conducted after 2012 nominee Mitt Romney did poorly – 27 percent – among Latino voters. President Barack Obama got 71 percent.
Democratic presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton has said she will move on immigration reform in her first 100 days. She said she would go beyond Obama’s controversial executive actions, which have faced serious challenges in courts.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican who is one of Congress’s most ardent hard liners on immigration and supports Trump, said the November election will play a huge role in determining how the divisive topic will be handled.
“The presidential election is just decisive on the whole situation in the sense that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama seem quite comfortable with the lawlessness that we have and seek constantly to increase immigration lawfully,” Sessions said to Politico.
“A Trump victory means that we will, I think in [a] rather short period of time, end the lawlessness at the border and will bring the country around to what I think a substantial majority favor,” he said.