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CPAC surprise: optimism about immigration reform

At CPAC Thursday, a top Republican pollster and a key House conservative on the immigration-reform debate hit perhaps the most optimistic notes to date on the progress of such legislation.

By Staff writer / March 14, 2013

Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida walks on the stage after speaking at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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National Harbor, Md.

A top Republican pollster and a key House conservative on the immigration-reform debate have hit perhaps the most optimistic notes to date on the progress of immigration-reform legislation.

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Lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol have been keen to keep their immigration discussions under wraps. That code of silence has persevered even as working groups in both chambers are fast approaching a loose deadline to deliver a bill, largely expected by sometime in April. Skepticism has grown that one or both chambers will be able to reach a deal, given the massive political and policy challenges on immigration.

But speaking on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland on Thursday, Republican pollster Whit Ayres sounded confident about the prospects.

“I do know that some of the members of the ‘Gang of Eight’ in the Senate are very optimistic that they will be able to put together a bill that will gain about half the Republican votes and almost all the Democratic votes,” said Mr. Ayres, who counts Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, a member of the so-called Gang of Eight senators working on immigration reform, among his clients.

“If they’re able to do that, it would have a whale of a head of steam going into the House, and it would provide a lot of cover for those in the House who find a vote for immigration reform difficult,” Ayres continued at America's largest gathering of conservative activists. “I will tell you there are some people who are deeply involved in this in the Senate who believe that can happen.”

Rep. Raúl Labrador (R) of Idaho – a former immigration lawyer who has played a central role in closely held House deliberations on immigration – largely matched Ayres’s optimism.

The chances of reforming the immigration system are “the highest that we’ve had in a long time,” Representative Labrador said. “I actually think the House is going to be more proactive than the Senate and you’re going to see that in the near future.”

Labrador noted he feared that labor unions could derail a deal over conservative and business requests for a large program for guest workers.

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