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STORY BY BURGESS EVERETT

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IMMIGRATION BILL Lindsey Graham Might Not Support his own bill
Published on March 20, 2021 2:47 AM

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In this Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, file photo, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., right, with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speak during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. | Manuel Balce Ceneta, File/AP
Lindsey Graham introduced a bipartisan immigration bill 43 days ago. But if it came up on the Senate floor today, he wouldn't support it.

"God, no," the South Carolina Republican senator scoffed in an interview. "I'm not in support of legalizing one person until you're in control of the border."

Graham was one of four Republicans who took a massive political risk in 2013 and supported a comprehensive immigration bill with four Democrats, fending off poison pill amendments and shepherding the last major reform bill through the Senate. These days he's a stalwart ally of former President Donald Trump who's still talking with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) about an immigration accord, giving Democrats whiplash as they wonder which version of Graham they'll see at the negotiating table.

But beyond Graham, it's not even clear the narrow DREAM Act he and Durbin so recently reintroduced could get a single Republican vote in the Senate — a big problem for Democrats who just pushed the immigration legislation through the House on Thursday. And that's a microcosm of a larger problem for the Senate and President Joe Biden's agenda: Though there's a bipartisan group searching for a way to break the chamber's gridlock, few Senate Republicans are leaping to help Biden on everything from minimum wage to infrastructure.

Is there actually a crisis on the southern border? | Playbook Playback SharePlay Video Several GOP senators remain interested in helping the Dreamer population of undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, but they're increasingly reluctant to do so amid a wave of cross-border migration.

"Many of us support giving a path to citizenship" to that population of mostly younger immigrants, said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the only Republican to support Biden's Health and Human Services nominee on Thursday. "But now the border is such a disaster that I don't see how you can do just a bill to deal with Dreamers."

Republicans blame their lack of enthusiasm almost solely on the worsening situation on the southern border as illegal crossings increase amid a surge in unaccompanied minors. And as long as the Senate has a 60-vote threshold to pass most bills, the GOP disinterest in Biden's policies is enough to put a deep chill on immigration reform in the 50-50 Senate.

When the bipartisan immigration alliance known as the Gang of Eight burst onto the scene in 2013, Durbin and Graham were joined by Sens. Chuck Schumer, Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). They started with an agreement on a pathway to citizenship, then reached a deal on border security and eventually won 68 votes, including 14 GOP senators. Such a gang is nowhere in sight this Congress.

"At this point, I don't have four Republicans who are willing to make a commitment to the whole thing. Or to a pathway to achieve the whole thing," Menendez said. "We're not there yet. I'm not giving up."

Putting aside that McCain and Flake are no longer in office and Rubio has shied away from the Senate's past few years of fruitless negotiations, a new group of Republicans is theoretically in the mix for immigration talks. Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) are all mentioned by Democrats as potential partners.

Romney, Tillis and Lankford all said this week that a clean DREAM Act is not currently an option.