April 25, 2013— -- Two drafters of the Senate's bipartisan immigration bill believe they can achieve the impossible in today's fractious Congress: convince majorities of both Republicans and Democrats in the upper chamber to support the proposal.
"Maybe this is hopeful, but it would be wonderful if we could get a majority on both sides," Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), a leading Democrat in the "Gang of Eight," told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
"I think it's very doable," added Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), a top Republican in the "Gang."
Both Schumer and McCain believe it is essential to attract more than just a filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority. Members of the "Gang" maintain that building a strong majority of 70 votes is not only possible; but that it's necessary to cajole the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to act.
Achieving that massive majority would require building a broad base of support, beyond just a handful of Republicans. McCain said that a large coalition of business, labor, agricultural, and religious groups support the "Gang of Eight" plan, showing that it's doable to attract 70 votes.
Schumer and McCain remain very bullish about the chances of pushing the immigration overhaul through Congress despite last week's Boston Marathon bombing, which prompted some GOP lawmakers to call for delaying the bill.
Schumer said that the bill would have actually strengthened security measures that could have enabled law enforcement to better monitor the movements of one of the bombing suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who traveled to Russia in January 2012 despite being included on a U.S. terror watch list.
"The events of Boston, if anything, should importune us to leave the status quo and go to a proposal like ours," he said.
Nonetheless, McCain said that he would be open to amendments that would address security concerns related to Boston, although he said it's too early to say what those changes might be.
"We will have ample opportunity, if there are lessons to be learned about the Boston tragedy, to incorporate [them] into the legislation," said the Arizona Republican. "This is not the final product."
McCain said that the group of eight senators has had conversations with a similar group in the House, which is drafting its own immigration bill.
The House is expected to turn out a more conservative product than the Senate. But both Schumer and McCain cautioned the House group that the Senate would under no circumstances accept a bill that does not include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
"There's no way of getting this job done without giving people a path to citizenship," said McCain. "A legal status is not something that someone should have to remain in unless they want to. It offends our fundamental principles of fairness in our society," to prevent people from gaining citizenship.
Schumer said that a bill without a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants would be a "non-starter" in the Senate and would not garner a single Democratic vote.
"If they don't provide a path to citizenship, their bill is a non-starter," Schumer told Univision after the breakfast. "There will be no immigration reform."