Schumer and McCain aim for 80 votes on immigration, but McCain warns of an LGBT ‘red herring’

McCain and Schumer. ()
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Senators Chuck Schumer and John McCain took their comity act to a Politico breakfast event this morning, saying their "Gang of Eight" is now meeting twice a week on immigration reform in the hopes of crafting a broadly supportable bill.

"We've got to maintain the center," said McCain. "We're not seeking 100 votes, but we are seeking 80 votes."

Schumer, who said his "heart went pitter-patter" when he first heard McCain was interested in taking up immigration reform, said the more Republicans they could accrue in the Senate, the better the chances the House would eventually pass their bill.

To do that, Schumer said it was important to proceed through regular order, with all the requisite committee mark-ups and potential amendments.

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That process could get thorny. Already some Democrats have demanded equal consideration for same-sex immigrant couples, an issue McCain called "a red herring."

"If somebody views that as the most important aspect of comprehensive immigration reform, then we just have a fundamental disagreement," he said. "Which is more important: LGBT or border security? Huh? ... If you're going to load it up with social issues, that's the best way to derail it in my view."

Schumer praised McCain and fellow Republicans Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio for showing "such courage and such strength" to work on an effort that might be unpopular among some conservatives.

"There's a trace of masochism in all three of our families," McCain deadpanned.

But they singled out Rubio, in particular, after the Florida freshman went on a conservative radio tour yesterday to explain the effort.

McCain said that was "important, and helpful"-—-both to the effort and Rubio's future prospects—and Schumer, who says he has a high opinion of Rubio, called it "amazing" and comparable to "Daniel in the lion's den."

"When the show started Limbaugh was a lot more hostile than in the end, and that's going to be a real service," Schumer said. 

McCain said the goal was to make even conservatives understand "the status quo is unacceptable," and he warned that even his home state of Arizona could turn blue if Republicans conspicuously kill this latest effort.

Both were hopeful that the worst of the bipartisan bickering was behind Congress now.

"American politics works in pendulum swings," said Schumer. "I think the partisanship has reached its peak."

McCain cited the aborted attempt at filibuster reform as proof.

"If the Senate had gone to a 51-vote body, it would have changed the nature of the United States Senate forever," he said.

And, at the prodding of the moderator, Politico's Mike Allen, McCain favorably compared Schumer's dealmaking for Democrats to that of the late senator Ted Kennedy.

"I think that Senator Schumer is assuming that role," McCain said.

Schumer called Kennedy a "mentor" and a "giant."

"I'm a long way from him," he said.