SAN DIEGO -- Something is not right in Washington. Suddenly a lot of powerful people on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are grabbing hold of the "third rail."
That's the term Rahm Emanuel -- former U.S. representative, White House chief of staff and now mayor of Chicago -- used to describe the immigration issue when he was the top lieutenant for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
President George W. Bush started this conversation in September 2001, when he suggested fixing the country's arcane immigration laws.
Emanuel worked hard to keep the issue off Congress' agenda because he didn't want to aggravate the split in the Democratic Party between Latinos who want to legalize illegal immigrants and union members who don't. He also didn't want to put conservative Blue Dog Democrats in the tough spot of having to support what they considered an "amnesty."
Meanwhile, Republicans were happy to stay away from the subject because they didn't want to inflame the divide in their party between businesses that want workers and nativists who worry about changing demographics. GOP leaders also didn't want free-market conservatives to have to oppose legalization just to please the restrictionists.
And so it went for 10 of the last 12 years, with immigration reform placed so far on the back burner that it fell off the stove. Congress took up the issue in 2006 and 2007, but Democratic leader Harry Reid ran that debate into the ground. He brilliantly scuttled reform bills to please organized labor, then pinned the blame on Republicans, which wasn't hard to do given how clumsily the GOP handles the immigration issue.
Now President Obama and bipartisan coalitions of lawmakers in both the House and Senate appear to be in a terrible hurry to pass an immigration reform bill.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., one of the loudest voices in Washington on this issue, told CNN's Soledad O'Brien that he expects legislation to pass by Labor Day.
So after avoiding the issue for more than a decade, lawmakers want to piece together a deal in just a few months.
Immigration reform groups are mobilizing to rally support for what seems to be a promising plan in the Senate. Like any good compromise, it was immediately attacked by the far right for going too far and by the far left for not going far enough.
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