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McConnell Hopeful on Border Bill

Republican Praises Reid’s Scheduling

Despite deep divisions within the GOP and the widening gulf between the two parties on other issues, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Friday he believes the chamber is moving closer to passing comprehensive immigration reform this year that could make it to President Bush’s desk.

In a rare instance of bipartisan comity, McConnell also praised Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) handling of the issue, telling reporters that Reid’s decision to schedule a debate next month has helped create favorable conditions for passage. Reid has said he will use the two weeks leading up to the Memorial Day recess to work on the bill.

“I think that we’re making progress. I think the Majority Leader has done the right thing in indicating he’ll bring this bill up the last two weeks before the Memorial Day recess,” McConnell said.

McConnell’s comments come on the heels of new calls for comprehensive reform by Bush last week. Despite early concerns that immigration reform was doomed this year, following a renewed push by the White House and Senate Republicans, lawmakers now appear close to working out some sort of a deal on a comprehensive measure that deals with both a new guest-worker program as well as border security and enforcement of laws prohibiting companies from hiring illegal workers.

Immigration reform could end up being one of the few bipartisan bright spots for Bush as he enters the stretch run of his presidency. Relations with Congressional Democrats have continued to deteriorate over the past several weeks both on the Iraq War and the domestic front, and the prospects for cooperation appear dim at best.

But administration officials have said they believe, at least on immigration, both the White House and Democrats have been able to maintain a cordial relationship that has not yet been tainted by their broader disagreements.

McConnell declined to comment on the most recent working draft floated by the Bush administration. But he said progress has continued to be made in closed-door talks and that all parties appear committed to working out a solution.

“I like the level of seriousness that has been demonstrated on both sides … which leads me to be hopeful,” McConnell said.

McConnell, however, would make no predictions of how the final measure will look. The bill is a “very, very complicated piece of legislation with lots of moving parts,” McConnell said of the negotiations, adding that “exactly what its going to look like in the end is very hard to predict.”

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