And the White House is not happy about it.
Chuck Schumer is a Democratic senator from New York. He is not without honor. He does not stab people in the back. He stabs them in the front.
Schumer and seven other senators known as the Gang of Eight have been working on a bipartisan immigration reform bill for some time. But Congress has been diddling around on such a bill for a dozen years without any success.
Times have changed, however, and both Democrats and Republicans need to woo Hispanics to win elections.
Barack Obama pledged during his last campaign to bring up immigration reform immediately after his inauguration. But the Gang of Eight recently informed the White House that it was still some weeks away from any kind of agreement.
So last Friday, the White House announced Obama would go to Las Vegas on Tuesday to talk about immigration and release a set of proposals.
Lo and behold, on Sunday Schumer reportedly called the White House and said the Gang of Eight was pushing ahead with its own statement Monday. This would upstage the president by a full day and establish the Senate and not the White House as taking the lead on immigration reform.
Some in the White House were furious, but others saw it as Schumer just being Schumer. “Schumer wants to get a bill and be in the lead; he wants some credit,” a Democratic source familiar with White House thinking told me. “The president campaigned on this, and he took a lot of crap for not leading on this, but overall we are happy if we have a bipartisan bill in Congress.
And while on Tuesday Obama wryly praised the senators for coming up with proposals “very much in line with principles I proposed and campaigned on for the last two years,” he also threatened them.
“If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion,” Obama said, “I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.”
But even if the House were to embrace the Senate proposals, there would still be a hitch.
“There is a 900 pound gorilla in the Senate plan,” my source warned me. “And it could be a huge problem.”
Both the Senate plan and the Obama plan offer a way for the 11 million undocumented workers already in America to earn their citizenship. But in order to get the Republicans on board, the Senate Democrats had to agree to a “commission” to determine if our border with Mexico is “truly secure.”
If the commission says it is secure, the pathway to citizenship for the 11 million is open. But if the commission says it is not secure, the pathway may be blocked for years or forever.
“What the hell does it mean?” the source said. “The White House thinks it doesn’t mean much. And if it is just a talking point, fine.”
In other words, some Democrats want to believe the commission, to be made up of “governors, attorneys general, and community leaders living along the Southwest border,” is just an olive branch to conservatives and has no true power.
Some Republicans, however, want to believe the commission will have veto power over citizenship until the border is “secure,” though nobody knows what “secure” actually means or even whether such a commission is constitutional.
No commission is mentioned in the president’s proposal, and Democratic sources tell me that the White House wants no part of it. But the Senate has come a long way,” the source familiar with White House thinking said. “And, overall, we are happy. But the path to citizenship for people already here cannot be dependent on ‘securing the border.’”
The Republicans will push for this, but the Democrats have no real reason to give in. As I wrote in a column in November, the White House views immigration reform as a win-win situation.
If it passes, then the White House, Chuck Schumer and the Democratic Party will get most of the credit with Hispanic voters. If it fails, the Republicans will get most of the blame. So either way, the Democrats win.
Which has finally occurred to Chuck Schumer.
“This will be the year Congress finally gets it done,” Schumer said Monday. “There’s more political risk in opposing immigration reform than supporting it.”
On Tuesday, President Obama said that undocumented immigrants are “woven into the fabric of our lives,” but he also said “immigration has always been an issue that enflames passions.”
“It’s easy sometimes for the discussion to take on a feeling of ‘us’ versus ‘them,’” he continued. “And when that happens, a lot of folks forget that most of ‘us’ used to be ‘them.’”
There are 11 million people among us who want to be us, and Obama is determined this year that is going to happen. No matter who gets the credit.
Roger Simon is editor of Politico.