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GOP senator: Healthcare bill may cost immigration overhaul

The lone Republican senator inclined to support the Obama administration’s bid to pass a major immigration overhaul said Friday that if a healthcare bill passes this weekend, the immigration effort is dead for the year.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is considered a crucial player in the immigration debate -- a Republican prepared to cross party lines and vote for a bill that would provide a path to legal status for the 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally.

Graham has spent months working with Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to draft an immigration bill. The two met privately with President Obama last week, delivering a three-page blueprint.

On Thursday, the Washington Post’s website published an op-ed article coauthored by Graham and Schumer laying out a proposal seen as the basis for a politically viable bill.

But Graham’s support has never been a sure thing. In recent days, he had made it clear that he was unhappy about the procedures Democrats are using to push the healthcare bill to a vote.

“If the healthcare bill goes through this weekend, that will, in my view, pretty much kill any chance of immigration reform passing the Senate this year,” Graham said Friday, two days before thousands are expected to march in Washington in support of an immigration overhaul.

Neither Schumer nor the White House would comment on Graham’s statement.

With Senate Democrats one vote shy of a filibuster-proof majority, Graham is positioned to make or break any immigration bill. To date, Schumer’s office and the White House have not succeeded in recruiting another Republican who might back an immigration overhaul.

More broadly, Graham’s announcement is a worrisome sign for a White House with many more domestic projects on its agenda. Graham has been seen as a potential ally in efforts to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Advocates of an immigration overhaul were angered by Graham’s statement.

Eliseo Medina, a union official who attended a White House meeting last week on immigration, said:

“If the Republicans want to be responsible for killing immigration reform, they are going to send an unmistakable signal to the Latino community that they don’t care about them. . . . And the Republican Party will have to take their chances at the polls in November and in 2012.”

peter.nicholas@latimes.com


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