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Republicans question Lindsey Graham's clout as immigration negotiator

Emma Dumain, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Lindsey Graham wants to be Congress' lead negotiator on changing the nation's immigration system, but the South Carolina Republican is facing potentially insurmountable challenges.

What would ordinarily give him stature as a valuable dealmaker –– his history of compromising with Democrats and his close relationship with President Donald Trump –– could be liabilities.

Trump was elected in part for promising to limit legal immigration. The president this past week questioned the value of admitting immigrants from "shithole countries" into the United States supported that notion.

Graham has probably had a better relationship with Trump than most of his colleagues, with a direct line to the Oval Office and frequent golfing invitations.

He might, though, have weakened his bargaining position with a leader who doesn't like to be called out. Graham was at the meeting when Trump made his incendiary comments, and did not deny reports Friday that he personally challenged Trump for making the remarks.

But Graham's vulnerabilities as an immigration power broker have deeper roots.

 

"Look, we had an election in 2016. Two members of the 'Gang of Eight' ran for president," said Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. "The American people didn't want (their) style of immigration reform. Donald Trump won."

The "Gang of Eight" was a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers who wrote the path-to-citizenship bill that passed the Senate in 2013 but went nowhere in the House. The two members of that group who ran for president were Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is not involved in the most current immigration negotiations, and Graham.

Hardliners aren't the only skeptics.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., who has been pushing for an immigration deal that includes a path to citizenship, said that while Graham was a valuable negotiator, he could see where lawmakers with less political baggage might be critical to success.

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