By MIKE ALLEN | 06/16/13 10:12 AM EDT
Getting to Maybe
Inside the Gang of Eight’s immigration deal.
by Ryan Lizza June 24, 2013
FIRST LOOK – RYAN LIZZA in The New Yorker, “The Political Scene: GETTING TO MAYBE — Inside the Gang of Eight’s immigration deal … John McCain and Charles Schumer, the senators behind the bipartisan initiative, overcame a long-standing mutual wariness”: “[A] senior White House offcial insisted that Obama’s role in overseeing details of the bill has been more signifcant than is generally known. ‘No decisions are being made without talking to us about it,’ the official said of the Gang of Eight negotiations … ‘This does not fly if we’re not O.K. with it, because everyone knows this is going to pass with some Republicans but with a majority of Democrats, and it’s going to require even more Democrats in the House.’ … ‘We’re not worried about short-term political credit. We’ll get plenty of it if it gets signed,’ the official said, adding that the White House was willing to let Republicans like [Lindsey] Graham and [Marco] Rubio, who are regularly attacked by conservatives, have the political space they needed. … ‘We’re the hammer on the back end. If the Republicans try to scuttle it, we’re the ones who can communicate to the Latino community who scuttled it.’ …
“The senators’ immigration-policy staffers also attended the Gang’s meetings, and, over time, two stood out: Leon Fresco, a Schumer aide, and Enrique Gonzalez, a Rubio aide. Both are Cuban-American lawyers from Miami who know the intricacies of immigration law. On one occasion, Fresco interrupted Schumer and corrected him on a technical point. According to McCain, Schumer, who is known for being colloquial with his staff, retorted, ‘Shut up, Leon!’ McCain remarked that Schumer and Fresco seemed to have a relationship akin to the characters played by John Goodman and Steve Buscemi in the cult movie ‘The Big Lebowski.’ … McCain, who is a stickler for observing the institution’s hierarchy, soon began greeting Fresco with a hearty ‘Shut up, Leon!’ … Fresco and Gonzalez helped to unlock the deal with labor and the Chamber of Commerce. The two biggest sticking points were wages for foreign workers (the unions wanted them to be higher) and the objections of the Building and Construction Trades union, which argues that plenty of Americans are looking for this kind of work.
“Rubio sided with the Chamber against the construction workers. ‘There are American workers who, for lack of a better term, can’t cut it,’ a Rubio aide told me. ‘There shouldn’t be a presumption that every American worker is a star performer. There are people who just can’t get it, can’t do it, don’t want to do it. And so you can’t obviously discuss that publicly.’ In the end, the wage issue was settled to the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s satisfaction, and the Building and Construction Trades union won a cap on the number of visas for foreign construction workers. On March 29th, Good Friday, Fresco called Schumer and said that the two sides had reached an agreement. It was 10 P.M., but Schumer wanted to call [the AFL-CIO’s Richard] Trumka and [the Chamber’s Tom] Donohue to make sure that they wouldn’t back out. He checked with a few of his Catholic staffers to see if it was all right to call on Good Friday. They told him it was. Schumer called Trumka and Donohue separately, then conferenced them into the same call. They agreed to support the temporary worker provision. ‘That was the first moment that I said, we can actually get this done,’ Schumer recalled.
“In the morning, he called Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, who was starting to have doubts about the Gang, and gave him the news. ‘You guys are kicking ass,’ McDonough said. … Schumer said [of Rubio], “He’s the real deal. He is smart, he is substantive. He knows when to compromise and when to hold. And he’s personable.’ An aide to Menendez said that, if the Gang were a group of high-school students, Rubio would be the cool jock and the captain of the football team, with whom everyone wanted to hang out. Schumer often found himself mediating disputes between Rubio and McCain, who felt that Rubio’s public statements sometimes positioned him positively with conservatives at the expense of the Gang. McCain would call Schumer and fume, “Look what Rubio’s doing! …
“Fox News has notably changed its tone since the election. … McCain told me, “Rupert Murdoch is a strong supporter of immigration reform, and Roger Ailes is, too.’ … McCain said that he, Graham, Rubio, and others also have talked privately to top hosts at Fox, including Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Neil Cavuto, who are now relatively sympathetic to the Gang’s proposed bill. … The unity of the Gang fractured at one point when Rubio, who often tried to find ways to set himself apart from the seven other senators, announced his support for an amendment requiring biometric tracking for visa holders which the Gang had agreed to oppose. …
“The White House is cautiously optimistic about the prospects for immigration reform, even in the House … Schumer told me that he wanted a super-majority. ‘There’s some talk we don’t need seventy votes,’ he said. ‘We need seventy.’ There are fifty-four Democratic votes in the chamber, and Schumer argued that support for a comprehensive bill would collapse in the House unless more Senate Republicans supported the bill. ‘If you get sixty-one, you get only seven Republican votes, then the House will say we don’t need a path to citizenship. They’ll say, “We’ll do high tech, we’ll do ag, we’ll let the people work, but no path to citizenship.” And the Hispanic community will say no and there will be no bill. You need momentum, particularly on the Republican side.’ The White House agrees. ‘The best way to get things through the House is to pass them through the Senate first with a bipartisan stamp of approval,’ the senior Obama official said, noting that the House Speaker, John Boehner, has been unusually accommodating. … ‘It could prove that Washington isn’t one hundred per cent broken. If a Gang of Eight-style bill is signed into law by the President, it will probably be one of the top five legislative accomplishments in the last twenty years. It’s a huge piece of business. The lesson is that, if both parties see something in their political interest, they’re very good at getting it done.’”