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Hirono feels power of 'Gang of Eight' in failed bid to amend immigration bill

By David Espo

AP Special Correspondent

LAST UPDATED: 09:12 a.m. HST, May 25, 2013

WASHINGTON » For all the soothing words she heard from fellow Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii never had a chance to win a relatively modest change to far-reaching immigration legislation.

Instead, the hidden hand of the Gang of Eight reached out and rejected her attempt to create an immigration preference for close relatives of citizens with an extreme hardship — the same force that had already derailed dozens of other proposals deemed to violate the delicate trade-offs made by the bill's authors.

The gang — the four Republicans and four Democrats who forged the plan— held together "amazingly well under the circumstances," said one member of the Judiciary Committee who was not part of the group. "It's a very complex bill," added Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

The legislation that now goes to the Senate floor creates a 13-year road to citizenship for the estimated 11.5 million immigrants living in the United States unlawfully, establishes a new program to allow low-skilled workers into the country and sharply expands the number of visas for highly skilled workers.

It also mandates a costly new effort to secure U.S. borders against future illegal crossings and remakes the existing system for legal immigration.

Beneath the surface lie dozens of difficult political bargains meant to balance the interests of members of the self-appointed Gang of Eight and various constituencies now welded into a coalition for the bill.

Fixing the precise standards for certifying that the U.S.-Mexican border is secure enough to permit other features of the bill to take effect was one. Setting the requirements, and rights, for those illegally in the country who will apply for "registered provisional immigrant status" was another.

Only four of the eight senators, two from each political party, are on the Judiciary Committee, but aides to all met privately in advance to review roughly 300 proposed amendments. Officials said there were few disagreements among the staff about which would have violated the basic bipartisan agreement and thus needed to be fended off at all costs.

The lawmakers themselves discussed a small number in meetings held either in the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., or John McCain, R-Ariz.

Even though immigration legislation is a top priority for President Barack Obama, the White House was held at arms' length. Administration officials were consulted about the feasibility of quickly establishing a nationwide biometric system to track immigrants, for example, but were not invited to the meetings.

It was only by accident that the public might have learned of the gang's power.

Speaking into a microphone that he evidently did not realize would pick up his voice, Schumer asked an aide during one vote, "Do our Republicans have a pass on this one?"

In fact, for days, the two GOP Gang of Eight members on the committee, Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, wound up opposing changes they might otherwise have supported — far more often than was the case with the Democrats, Schumer and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Among them were numerous attempts by other Republicans to toughen border security requirements before legalization can begin or to otherwise make provisional legal status harder to obtain.

Still other proposals were reshaped to meet the conditions of the Gang of Eight, including one by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and John Cornyn of Texas, one the Democratic committee chairman, the other the Senate's second-ranking Republican.

They wanted to change a provision providing $1.5 billion to deploy "additional fencing in high-risk border sectors," proposing instead that the money go to "fencing, infrastructure and technology." Officials said that ran afoul of the wishes of Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the Gang of Eight, who had made construction of the fence a priority.

In the end, a compromise emerged, with $1 billion to be spent exclusively on fencing and $500 million available for that purpose or other infrastructure or technology.

In addition to Rubio, the gang members not on the Judiciary Committee are McCain and Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

The knowledge that the Gang of Eight would object caused some proposals to wither without a vote.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., prepared two gun-related amendments, but he had only one of them debated and withdrew it without a vote he was certain to lose.

On the other hand, amendments that the Gang of Eight decided didn't threaten their measure or might strengthen it rose or fell based on other factors. The phasing in of the biometric system, a Republican suggestion, was a key one.

Hirono deferred on several of her proposals but chose a different course on a proposal to let U.S. citizens suffering from extreme hardship petition for a sibling or adult married child to immigrate.

"This is a tiny change and would be utilized only in the most sympathetic cases," she said. She noted that as drafted, the legislation eliminated an existing preference for siblings eager to follow family members to the United States, a category that historically has tended to benefit immigrants from Asian nations.

"I understand that my amendment is in conflict with the agreement that the Gang of Eight reached on this bill," she said, adding, "If they were not part of the Gang of Eight, I believe they would support this limited amendment."

In the debate that followed, two nongang Democrats on the committee, Sens. Al Franken of Minnesota and Chris Coons of Deleware, said they would support Hirono.

But Graham said an issue of overriding importance to him had been the bill's establishment of a new system for legal immigration. "What I'm trying to do is have a family component within a merit-based immigration system, not turn immigration into chain migration family-based immigration.... And I will continue to insist on that for my participation," he added.

Schumer and Durbin quickly closed ranks, saying they would oppose Hirono's proposal reluctantly.

In a gesture to Graham and Flake, Durbin said the two Republicans had "stood by the agreement when it wasn't easy politically. I feel duty-bound to do the same thing at this moment."

Graham said he understood the vote was tough for Democrats. "Sen. Flake and I have been voting for six days" against proposals they might otherwise have favored, "so glad to have you on board," he said.

Laughter filled the committee room.

Moments later, Hirono's amendment was rejected 11-7, another in an unbroken series of victories for the Gang of Eight.

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Maneki_Neko wrote:
Good time for her to give a speech about being a poor immigrant child who came to Hawaii on a boat with a Mother who had an abusive relationship.

Shoots, if you going to be completely ineffective, might as well have an entertaining back story.

on May 25,2013 | 09:18AM
allie wrote:
She is powerless but so are the other members of our delegation.
on May 25,2013 | 09:41AM
Skyler wrote:
They wield more power than you, 'hon.'
on May 25,2013 | 10:00AM
bender wrote:
Seems like they don't. Seems like the only power they have is to claim the perks that come with the job.
on May 25,2013 | 10:38AM
DAGR81 wrote:
just taking the lead from Obama, enjoy the perks as long as the taxpayers are willing to pay for it
on May 25,2013 | 11:11AM
OldDiver wrote:
This bill should be called the "Southern Berlin Wall". It is unworkable and more nonsense brought to you by the tea party.
on May 25,2013 | 12:15PM
inlanikai wrote:
Chuck E. (Cheese) Schumer and Dick Durbin are tea party? Whodathunkit! Thanks for clearing that up.
on May 25,2013 | 12:58PM
Mythman wrote:
Mr. driver: As an expert in American history, which you are, I appreciate your perspective and always guide my actions in accordance with it, it is so wise and unpedantic......
on May 25,2013 | 01:22PM
lynnh wrote:
Time for you to shut your mouth. You have no clue what you are talking about and only care about slinging your BS views. I do not like Schumer as far as I could throw him, but this is his bill along with other democrats. There are "no" Tea Party members on the gang of eight at all. Check your facts before you open your uneducated mouth. So sick of you!
on May 25,2013 | 02:38PM
lynnh wrote:
Umm, there are "no" Tea Party members on the Gang of Eight. You comment show just how bias and uneducated you are.
on May 25,2013 | 02:43PM
OldDiver wrote:
No clue fellas? Republicans require the Tea Party stamp of approval on everything. This bill is going nowhere.
on May 25,2013 | 03:37PM
allie wrote:
on May 25,2013 | 11:20AM
DAGR81 wrote:
speaking of perks - google "michelle obama trips" - talk about entitlement mentalitly
on May 25,2013 | 11:48AM
copperwire9 wrote:
Talk about useless commentary...and there you are.
on May 25,2013 | 01:12PM
DAGR81 wrote:
you need to let the sun shine on your head
on May 25,2013 | 03:53PM
Mythman wrote:
You might be accurate, "Skyler" except "Allie" isn't a member of congress elected to pass legislation beneficial to, well, this is where it gets sticky, since they also need to earn money to pay for getting elected and re-elected, you know, kinda like your own power, to snarl and growl........
on May 25,2013 | 01:20PM
Skyler wrote:
Not snarling or growling, just stating a fact. Well, I guess we all grumble, but we're not the ones sitting up there trying to 'wag the dog' so to speak.
on May 25,2013 | 05:11PM
allie wrote:
thank you!
on May 25,2013 | 05:35PM
pechanga wrote:
I appreciate allie!
on May 26,2013 | 03:29AM
peanutgallery wrote:
This woman is a complete waste of our time and resources. She tried to bog down a bill that is already corrupt with un-enforceable bs. he laws already exist to deal with immigration. We need to end the anchor baby law, and toss the illegals. Period!
on May 25,2013 | 11:24AM
copperwire9 wrote:
You're free to leave any time.
on May 25,2013 | 01:13PM
Mythman wrote:
The bill was written by union leadership to boost union membership by the illegals being converted to legal and enrolling in unions in gratitude. since we have a powerful union voting bloc, Sen Hirano is only doing her job, representing the folks who live in and run our wonderful state.
on May 25,2013 | 01:23PM
dontbelieveinmyths wrote:
The "power of the gang of eight"? How about the weakness of Mazie? Oh yeah and our other guy Shatz is trying to push another feel good bill, honoring the native american veterans. C'mon Hawaii delegates, try to do something to fix our country.
on May 26,2013 | 07:04AM
niimi wrote:
There should be no "preferences" for family for that would be to institutionalize nepotism. To legalize nepotism would be a grave error.
on May 25,2013 | 09:22AM
mcc wrote:
Hirono, who is that?
on May 25,2013 | 09:23AM
pandadaddy wrote:
Giving amnesty to criminals is never a good idea. This will only promote more foreigners to break the law by entering this country illegally. Many of them bask in the abundant entitlements that LEGAL American citizens work hard to sacrifice for. I'm tired of supporting illegal aliens and stop calling them "undocumented workers". It sounds ridiculous.
on May 25,2013 | 09:25AM
bender wrote:
Exactly. We went through this in the 90's and gave citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants and were told they would fix the problem. Here we are two decades later doing the same thing, and I expect in another 20 years we will be doing it again, if not sooner.
on May 25,2013 | 10:40AM
OldDiver wrote:
Nope, it was the 80's via Ronald Reagan.
on May 25,2013 | 12:11PM
inlanikai wrote:
A CONservitive? OMG!
on May 25,2013 | 12:56PM
pandadaddy wrote:
What do you mean "nope"? It did happen in the 90s AND in the 80s. Whether it was supported by conservatives or liberals isn't the point. It was a screw up and continues to be. I'm sick of our "commander in chief" traveling around the world on taxpayers money apologizing for being a selfish, inconsiderate country. I'm disgusted with his anti-American attitude. I was also disgusted with the Republican supporters of amnesty.
on May 25,2013 | 01:08PM
Mythman wrote:
Oop, sorry Mr. Diver, I didn't see your post correcting it before I posted. My bad
on May 25,2013 | 01:25PM
Mythman wrote:
I think that was the 80s, and you might be referring to the debacle that was Pres Reagan's immigration reform bill
on May 25,2013 | 01:24PM
Kalaheo1 wrote:
If I'm reading this correctly, a balanced bipartisan group of congress worked hard to come up with immigration legislation that would pass and rejected a bunch of stuck-on amendments like Senator Hirono's and a bunch of other opportunists too lazy to write and pass their own bills.

This is exactly the sort of work by congress that we should be applauding.

on May 25,2013 | 09:26AM
Bdpapa wrote:
Agree! This add on agenda needs to be sopped.
on May 25,2013 | 09:46AM
Skyler wrote:
I agree about the bi-partisan work - it's been long overdue, but amendments are a fact of life in politics. Not saying that her proposal was a good one; it wasn't, but I disagree that it's laziness. All politicians do it, whether we see it as ok or not. The few represent the many. There is no way to debate each and every entity's 'wish' separately.

I'm more concerned with 'gut & replace' tactics in our local politics - that has to cease.
on May 25,2013 | 10:11AM
bender wrote:
I disagree about the work done by the gang of eight. They obviously included the stuff the liked and obviously catered to the wishes of certain business world people but aren't willing to include the ideas of others. Surely there must have been more than one good amendment out of the 300 proposed. I'm not saying Hirono's was creidlbe but you would think that there must have been at least one good idea in the 300 offered.
on May 25,2013 | 10:44AM
Skyler wrote:
I think they're having to really reach for the 'middle' - if there is one, thereby having to discard even what might be good proposals. This is a bi-partisan group, so both sides are tugging & pulling. Remains to be seen what happens... stay tuned.
on May 25,2013 | 05:14PM
AmbienDaze wrote:
irt your comment: I'm more concerned with 'gut & replace' tactics in our local politics - that has to cease.

I think “gut and replace” has it place and function. after being repeatedly amended, sometimes it is easier to wipe a bill’s slate clean and start with fresh, clean language.

and thanks for showing me how to line break.
on May 26,2013 | 07:14AM
serious wrote:
Kalahoe1--you hit it. And, the reason for the bipartisan balance is that they kept the President and his Administration out of it. If he had been involved he'd be on TV daily telling us what HE had done. There can be lots of agreements between parties if he'd just keep taking vacations and stay out of the way of the lawmakers.
on May 25,2013 | 10:51AM
ya_think wrote:
These bozo's keep writing new laws when they can't even enforce the ones that are on the books already. If your in this country illegally then you have committed a crime, period. If I have to live by the laws of this country then everyone else here should also. If your here illegally then you need to be shipped back to where you came from, and if you want to come to this country then do it the right way and get in line.
on May 25,2013 | 10:03AM
bender wrote:
I don't think Congress understands your concept and I'm sure the Gang of Eight would reject your ideas. One other thing, all of the countries that send us illegal immigrants have very strick immigration laws and they are inflexible. Why is it only the United States that can't seem to come to grips with enforcement of immigration laws.
on May 25,2013 | 10:47AM
Manoa_Fisherman wrote:
At least Sen. Hirono tried to assist the members of the Filipino community affected by the plight of the WWII veterans and their families. Too bad, Schatz doesn't understand the problem enough to stand up to the "Gang of Eight".
on May 25,2013 | 10:18AM
jrboi96786 wrote:
I'm an immigrant myself who came here with my mother and work our butt off to get into where we at without help from the government money. I served this country in uniform and so does several of my relatives. I don't want this country to turn into foster home. I want immigrants that comes here with a purpose, not to rely on government to feed and shelter them. I want a young well educated or hard working people that would help our country to move forward. I don't want no old people that has only few years to work until they're qualify to retire and expect SS check to come to them every month and healthcare to cover them when they get sick.
on May 25,2013 | 10:22AM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Perhaps we should stop worrying so much about preventing illegals from entering the country and make it less attractive for them to want to come in the first place. No more welfare, medicaid, food stamps, public education or any type of license issued if you're illegal period. If we did that, they would stop coming. There's no other country in the world that will do for illegals what we currently do. It's why most immigrants come, cut off their freebies, they'll stop coming.
on May 25,2013 | 04:55PM
Nevadan wrote:
It's politics. "It's the Hispanic vote, stupid." The gang of 8 know it is not in the U S interest to legalize illegals. Here is why: Fifty years ago, we have five workers supporting one retiree. Because people are living longer, we will soon have two workers supporting one retiree. For us to maintain our high standard of living, the ratio must be high. One solution will be to bring in workers from foreign countries. Is it better to legalize an illegal alien, or to bring in multi-millionaires? The former earns little and pays little or no taxes. By definition, they are "takers" and not givers. The latter will pay much more taxes. They are welcomed in Australia, Canada and most countries.
on May 25,2013 | 10:59AM
Pocho wrote:
it's the Government's lega pyramid scheme of things
on May 25,2013 | 04:26PM
livinginhawaii wrote:
But during her campaign she said that she was a leader and able to bring together both political parties. Is this not true? I am now really confused over everything this woman claimed in her campaign speeches.... I believe that her position on the Jones Act is pure pandering to the labor union and not in the best interest of the working people of Hawaii. Shame on her!
on May 25,2013 | 11:19AM
entrkn wrote:
Hirono is being correctly perceived as a temp and they are humoring her and toyying with her until she is gone.... and Hawaii would suffer the same fate with Hanabusa if we are foolish and elect her to anything else.
on May 25,2013 | 11:21AM
Bdpapa wrote:
It's starting to look that way.
on May 25,2013 | 11:30AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
She is not a temp - she is a political opportunist causing Hawaii to suffer. How many times did she switch between running for governor and senate a few years back?
on May 25,2013 | 12:28PM
Mythman wrote:
All the AJAs vote for her in a bloc automatically, or at least most of them. AJAs have done so well by doing this for a long, long time now. Look around you - who is rich besides the ali'i trust insiders and union bosses? Come on, now.....
on May 25,2013 | 01:28PM
entrkn wrote:
Schatz and Gabbard are getting results and making Hawaii look good while Hirono and Hanabusa are making big shows and getting nothing... and making Hawaii look bad.
on May 25,2013 | 11:32AM
64hoo wrote:
schatz and gabbard are not getting any kind of results there just as bad as hirono and hanabusa. do nothings.
on May 25,2013 | 01:24PM
Pocho wrote:
all Green Rainbow Rookies
on May 25,2013 | 04:27PM
Nevadan wrote:
on May 25,2013 | 04:30PM
Mythman wrote:
Don't be so sure Brian is not dancing to the KSBE tune as some crazy statements he made recently about the overthrow seem to be designed to win their favor since this Bull sheet is one of their propaganda shibboleths, along with navigating by the stars and others. to be fair, KSBE has given hope to our immigrant population in the form of a really high quality education for basically free - too bad they can't be more humble in the Asian tradition.
on May 25,2013 | 01:30PM
DAGR81 wrote:
What did hirono have to say about this?
on May 25,2013 | 11:39AM
soosie wrote:
Hirono what an embarrassment to Hawaii. Seems she there for herself with that old song n dance of her life. Same violin. Hirono please do something for Hawaii instead of little Hirono....move on.
on May 25,2013 | 12:19PM
inlanikai wrote:
Welcome to the Big Leagues, Mazie. These guys are playing above the rim.
on May 25,2013 | 12:54PM
Wahiawamauka wrote:
Enough is enough. We already have people bringing in their parents from other countries just so they can get free health care through medicare even though those same people never paid a dime in taxes. Filipinos have been doing this for years and they continue to do it. All this while our government will have to cut our own benefits soon.
on May 25,2013 | 01:34PM
Grimbold wrote:
Right , they are abusing the System and us!
on May 26,2013 | 05:45AM
false wrote:
At what is our "senior" senator, Schatz, doing?????? NOTHING, except thinking up ways to win the 2014 election. I'd rate him the worst of our four congresspersons. Why hasn't he taken an active stand on any of the controversial issues??
on May 25,2013 | 02:12PM
lynnh wrote:
Being the worst of four complete "in it for myself" losers doesn't mean much. They are all worthless, yet the stupid voters out here keep putting them in.
on May 25,2013 | 03:26PM
Pocho wrote:
I agree, they good for nothing. LOSE MONEY
on May 25,2013 | 04:28PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
stupid amendment anyway, we want immigrants that can bring needed skills or expertise to america, hardship should not be a factor, they'll all claim extreme hardship, that's why most people want to come here.
on May 25,2013 | 04:42PM
Grimbold wrote:
Half the world could plead extreme hardship.
on May 26,2013 | 05:47AM
st1d wrote:
mazie's ineffectiveness and laziness were exposed in her inability to overcome eight other senators. eight, out of 100. there were 91 other senators that mazie should have convinced to work with her as she promised in her campaigns.
on May 26,2013 | 12:39AM
Grimbold wrote:
The heck with Immigration. We are overcrowded and don't Need more People.
on May 26,2013 | 05:44AM
Uncleart66 wrote:
More dummies to for her.......
on May 26,2013 | 05:55AM
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