John Avlon for The Daily Beast: Lindsey Graham Wasn't Afraid to Fight for Immigration Reform

June 28th, 2013

The Daily Beast
by John Avlon
June 28, 2013

Profiles in courage are rare in our politics these days, but the Senate’s passage of comprehensive immigration reform is bright example of how Washington does not need to be a place where good ideas go to die.

Credit goes to the “Courageous 14” Republican senators who joined with the Democratic majority to make this legislation pass by a towering bipartisan margin of 68 to 32. Building squarely on the tireless efforts of the Gang of Eight—led by Marco Rubio, Chuck Schumer, Robert Menendez, and John McCain—the bill’s passage was a timely reminder that common ground is the only practical problem-solving space on Capitol Hill. That matters if you believe Congress should be more than an ideological debating society.

But the first among equals in the profile in courage sweepstakes is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Of all the Gang of Eight senators, he was the most unvarnished in his advocacy and he has the most to lose.

Immigration reform isn’t exactly a popular agenda item in South Carolina. It has no natural constituency, as in Arizona or Florida. There is no obvious political upside for a senator already viewed as suspect by the Tea Party crowd and facing reelection—and a possible primary fight—in 2014. A lesser public servant would shy away and let others do the heavy lifting, but Graham instead said: “I don’t want to stop being a senator to be a senator.”

Instead of playing to the base and dealing in demographic denial, Graham spoke bluntly about the stakes of failure on immigration reform. “We’re in a demographic death spiral as a party and the only way we can get back in good graces with the Hispanic community, in my view, is to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” he said on Meet the Press. “If you don’t do that, it really doesn’t matter who we run, in my view,” in 2016.

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