Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Senators Hush-Hush as They Craft Immigration Bill

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Senators Hush-Hush as They Craft Immigration Bill

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON The eight senators meet in private several times a week, alternating between Sen. John McCain's and Sen. Charles Schumer's offices. They sit in arm chairs arranged in a circle and sip water or soft drinks as they debate temporary workers and border security. In a capital riven by partisanship and gridlock, they are determined to be the exception and actually get something done.

This is immigration reform's "Gang of Eight." With them lies the best hope in years for overhauling the nation's byzantine immigration laws and they know it. That's partly why they are, by all accounts, working amazingly well together as a self-imposed deadline approaches for their legislation to be released. The progress is happening even though the group includes some of the Senate's most outsized personalities, failed and prospective presidential candidates, one lawmaker dogged by scandal and another facing a potential re-election challenge that could be complicated by his stance on immigration.

"I tell you what, this is one of the best experiences I've had. Everybody's serious, everybody's knowledgeable, they've been around the issue," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who's up for re- election next year and facing a potential GOP primary challenge from the right. He said it was "sort of what I came up here to do sit down with serious people to solve serious and hard problems."

In addition to McCain, R-Ariz., Schumer, D-N.Y., and Graham, the gang includes Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a potential 2016 presidential candidate; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who's battling allegations related to prostitution and his ties to one of his donors.

They meet for an hour or an hour-and-a-half at a time on days when the Senate is in session. No reporters stake out these meetings, and aides stand or sit in the background, behind their bosses. They're assiduous about avoiding leaks and tight-lipped on the details of how their talks are going.

"I'm guardedly optimistic," McCain almost invariably says when asked.

McCain and Schumer sometimes take the lead in the meetings, but others speak up as issues arise that are of special importance to them. …

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