It's not every day that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Republican activist Grover Norquist are spotted in the same room. On Thursday, however, they stood inches from each other while a bipartisan group of senators rolled out a comprehensive immigration reform proposal that Congress will debate for the next several months.
Members of the "Gang of Eight" promoted their 844-page immigration bill, which was released earlier in the week, on Capitol Hill Thursday. It's the product of months of intense private negotiations that supporters say will secure the borders and provide a path to legality for nearly 12 million people currently living in the nation illegally.
Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Bob Menendez of New Jersey joined Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Marco Rubio of Florida, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, who each took turns speaking. The press conference was the first time they had all appeared publicly together since the group released its goals for the bill in January.
The lawmakers joked about the process of negotiating the bill and gave thanks to their staff members, who worked through many sleepless nights to hammer out the details between some of the most conservative and liberal members in the chamber.
"It’s well known in the Senate I’m not the easiest guy to get along with," McCain said before praising the Democrats who worked with him.
The senators acknowledged that there was still work to be done and that the bill was just a starting point.
"This isn’t perfect, but it’s a good-faith, common-sense approach to fix a badly broken system," Durbin said, echoing calls from the other lawmakers who urged their colleagues to prepare to make compromises to pass the bill.
The first Senate hearing on the bill will be held Friday, with Senate markups scheduled for the first week of May.
"2013 is the year of immigration reform, I really do believe it," Graham said. "We’re either gonna get a bill or have one hell of a fight."
Both is more like it.
Rachel Rose Hartman contributed to this report.