To understand why Republicans regularly get rolled whenever there is a “Gang” negotiation in the Senate, look closely at the latest “Gang” negotiating immigration reform. The Democrat effort is headed up by Sens. Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer, veteran negotiators who hold the second and third most powerful positions in the Senate. Leading the GOP efforts are Sens. John McCain and Marco Rubio, who is in his first term. Durbin and Schumer can enforce their deal with the entire Dem caucus. McCain and Rubio cannot. It is an unequal fight.
The other GOP negotiators are Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake, who is serving his first year in the Senate. McCain and Graham are already to the left of the GOP caucus on the immigration issue. Worse, though, none of the GOP negotiators has the reputation for the hard-ball, in-your-face negotiations perfected by Durbin and Schumer. Rounding out the Dem team is Sen. Bob Menendez, a notorious political brawler and Sen. Mike Bennett, who is in charge of electing Dem Senators in 2014.
The Democrat team are highly disciplined, experienced political fighters. The GOP team, by contrast, is essentially John McCain and Marco Rubio. Sen. Rubio no doubt is well-intentioned and has conviction on this issue, but he is untested at this level of negotiation on such a complex and challenging issue.
On Tuesday, the “Gang of 8″ released a memo detailing the broad outlines of their agreement on immigration. The memo begins with border security and details several specific provisions meant to secure the southern border with Mexico. It envisions a 10-year window to secure the border before the 11-12 million illegal immigrants can apply for permanent legal status.
The deal would make current illegal immigrants legal, with a new status, as soon as Homeland Security submits a “plan” to secure the border. No further action is required to be taken after this. Illegal immigrants, however, would immediately be permitted to live and work here, provided they renew their status every 6 years.
The current deal represents the high-water mark for GOP negotiators on this issue. From this point, any action in the Senate is likely to water down the border security provisions or expedite the move from the new “Probationary Resident Immigrant” to full legal status.
Sen. Schumer recently stated that the issue of border security would come after resolving citizenship. The GOP managed to negotiate that to border security coming after legal residency. It is a distinction without much of a difference.