Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Photo by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
This week, Politico reported on the on-again off-again relationship between Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on immigration. Apparently, it’s on-again, with both Schumer and Graham telling reporters and contacts that they are back at the negotiating table. Lest we get too excited, we shouldn’t forget that we’ve been down this path before.
Back in August 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported that Senator Schumer had tapped Senator Graham to be his partner in crafting bi-partisan reform legislation. In January 2010, Senator Graham urged the Senate to take on tough issues like immigration reform. In February, however, he was already beginning to drag his feet hinting that we needed to secure the border first as a confidence builder for the American people. In March, things picked back up as the Senators met with President Obama to discuss their blueprint for reform. Days later, however, Sen. Graham began sending mixed signals, indicating that he would continue to work with Sen. Schumer, while at the same time castigating the President for not really making a sincere effort to move immigration reform forward. A few days after that, Sens. Graham and Schumer published a blueprint in the Washington Post that offered an outline of ideas for reform—a blueprint that many believe was driven by the intense pressure building up to a 200,000 strong immigration rally on the mall last March.
Unfortunately, things went downhill from there. In the wake of final passage of the health care reform package, Sen. Graham argued that immigration had become too heavy a lift after the hurt feelings left over from that vote and blamed the President for his failure to put forward a bill of his own. Sen. Schumer essentially begged him on national television to keep going. By the end of April, Democrats forged ahead with their own, more involved immigration outline because Senator Graham was no longer willing to play ball. That coupled with the passage of SB 1070, and a tough race facing Sen. John McCain in Arizona, led Graham to push even harder for a border-first strategy.
By August, things went from bad to worse, when Sen. Graham dropped his 14th Amendment bombshell:
“People come here to have babies,” he said. “They come here to drop a child. It’s called ‘drop and leave.’ To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to the emergency room, have a child, and that child’s automatically an American citizen. That shouldn’t be the case. That attracts people here for all the wrong reasons.”
So, excuse us for being a little skeptical. It would be terrific to see a bill emerge from the dance between Sens. Schumer and Graham, but even Politico indicated that it is probably contingent on pulling in a lot more partners who haven’t played before. Filling up their dance card with new folks might inject the energy and drive needed to get past last year’s failed partnership. Or it might not. Sen. Graham, in particular, is going to have to work awfully hard to get past the outrage and the craziness he has helped to fuel by jumping into the effort to repeal the 14th Amendment.
The real lesson in all of this is that change is going to come from outside the Senate and the House. The Schumer-Graham immigration blueprint—the most concrete public document to emerge from last year’s relationship—came on the heels of a major immigration rally. It’s that kind of effort that will ultimately force change. As more and more people push for immigration reform and push back, on anti-immigrant state measures, the imperative for reform will start to sink in. We can’t look to political creatures like Sens. Schumer or Graham or even the President to do the heavy lifting (although all of them need to do more). Instead, we have to renew our own pressure to get immigration reform the attention it deserves. Senate trysts and rendezvous alone will not get the job done—that falls on our shoulders, too.