At a breakfast sponsored by Politico, a shy and retiring John McCain and Chuck Schumer got into a few specifics about how immigration reform could move through Congress.
"I've had younger legislators come to me and say, 'What's a conference committee really like?'" said Schumer. "'How do you legislate in committee?' We don't do it anymore!"
McCain sketched out a path to passage that would rely on Democratic votes and cooled-off Republican tension. "We want 80 votes [in the Senate]," he said — the number of votes that Democrats originally said they wanted for the 2009 stimulus bill, for what that's worth. Passed with that majority, and that momentum, a good bill could get "a majority of Democrats in the House, and a large number, maybe not a majority, of Republicans."
Easily said, not easily done. Republicans talk about this year's first two big votes, on the "fiscal cliff" and on Hurricane Sandy relief, as outliers. They can't break the "Hastert rule" on picayune social issues! But McCain admitted that immigration reform may only pass if they're willing to pad their bloc with Democratic votes.
There were very few questions about potential poison pills, or "triggers," which could sink the bill. All McCain said was that the "group of eight" (I still prefer Octogang, per my colleague Matt Yglesias) would band together to kill amendments that could kill the bill. Politico's Mike Allen asked whether LGBT protections, part of the president's framework, could be included in the bill.
"I think it is a red herring," scoffed McCain — add that, and you may as well add "taxpayer-funded abortion." Social issues would bring down the legislation. "Which is more important, LGBT or border security? Huh? I'll tell you what my priorities are."