WASHINGTON –This is an extremely long shot, I know.
Sen. John McCain’s tragic brain cancer is triggering an outpouring of sympathy for the Arizona Republican, a two-time presidential candidate, a former Vietnam prisoner-of-war, a military hero, an independent minded say-it-like-it-is one of a kind who routinely deep dives into the toughest issues of the day.
McCain’s illness – and I know this may seem crass, but please don’t take it that way, I’m just trying to look ahead at the political environment – could, maybe, hollow out a political place for Republicans to pay tribute to McCain with a legacy piece of legislation.
Specifically, I’m talking about McCain inspiring the GOP controlled House and Senate to approve a narrow slice of immigration legislation to protect DREAMers, a crusade launched 16 years ago by Sen. Dick Durbin D-Ill.
McCain has been a long-time champion of comprehensive immigration reform. McCain, Durbin and Sen. Lindsey Graham R-S.C. were part of the “Gang of Eight” pushing a bi-partisan immigration reform overhaul through the Senate in 2013 only to never pass the House.
Durbin and Graham are launching a new drive to pass a “Dream Act,” appearing together at a press conference in the Capitol on Thursday, a day after the nation learned the shocking news about McCain’s malignant brain tumor.
Graham and McCain are the closest of friends, and McCain’s illness weighed on Graham during the presser in the Senate Radio and Television gallery.
“You ask me how’s he doing? He’s called me three times this morning,” Graham said with a passion and emotion familiar to anyone who’s prayed for a friend facing an illness with very, very tough odds.
“No more woe is me, Lindsey. He is yelling at me to buck up, so I’m going to buck up,” said Graham, telling the story that McCain got him started on supporting immigration reform years ago well, “because John asked me.
“…And I have come to believe that comprehensive immigration reform, whether done in piecemeal fashion of done comprehensively is absolutely essential for our national security,” Graham said.
Added Graham, “So to President Trump, you’re going to have to make a decision,” Graham said. “The campaign is over. To the Republican Party, who are we? What do we believe? The moment of reckoning is coming. When they write the history of these times, I’m going to be with these kids.”
DREAMers are youths in the U.S. illegally through no fault of the their own. Durbin, the founder of the DREAMer movement, introduced his first DREAM Act in 2001, after learning of the plight of an undocumented Chicago teenager.
Congress has never made it into law – with DREAMers human chits in the churn of the ongoing larger divisive, contentious issues of border security, illegal immigration, crime and sanctuary cities.
President Donald Trump’s campaign played to anti-immigrant sentiments in the U.S. summed up with his promise – so far unfilled – of building a wall on the Mexico border.
Former President Barack Obama gave DREAMers certain protections to stay here, under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, nicknamed DACA. But since they were not laws, Trump could end DACA. Indeed, a group of ten GOP Attorney Generals are threatening to go to court to force Trump to yank DACA by September.
“Over the years we have tried many times to pass this legislation,” said Durbin. “…We’ve never quite brought it together.”
At the Wednesday White House briefing, Marc Short, an assistant to the president for White House legislative affairs – that is, Trump’s top guy on Capitol Hill – was asked about the Trump administration’s position on the Graham and Durbin revived DREAM measure.
“I think that the administration has opposed the DREAM Act and likely will be consistent on that,” Short said.
Though that may seem like a deal killer, it’s not. Trump is wildly inconsistent. Just look at his pirouettes over health care. Repeal Obamacare one day, repeal and replace the next.
Graham’s recipe: Have Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, a former four-star Marine general Trump likes (for now) come up with a border security plan and deal with visa overstay offenders, matters that have always been bi-partisan priorities.
“When John Kelly speaks, everybody listens,” Graham said. Maybe even Trump.