But critics also have important grass-roots influence, including from talk radio hosts who were instrumental in defeating the bill in 2007, and opponents argue that as the public absorbs the content of the legislation, the tide will turn against it. They say that there are already signs that it's happening. Although conservative commentators on Fox News Channel and elsewhere have been more muted so far than in 2007, some talk radio hosts including Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh have begun to voice deep unease about the bill despite the efforts of its conservative standard bearer, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to sell the legislation to them and other conservative opinion leaders.
"The supporters promoted the bill aggressively before anybody saw the language, and certain Republicans and conservative voices sort of held their fire, but that's beginning to change," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who was a leading voice in the Senate against the bill in 2007 and is reprising that role this time around, making floor speeches, issuing press releases and holding briefing calls with reporters to argue that the bill would unlock a much larger volume of immigration into the U.S. than advertised, to the detriment of U.S. workers and jobs.
"It's going to be like that mackerel in the sunshine — the longer it's out there the worse it smells," Sessions said.
The bill would aim to boost border security, fix legal immigration and worker programs, require all employers to check their workers' legal status and offer eventual citizenship to the estimated 11 million immigrants already living in the country illegally.
Joyce Kaufman, a host on a Florida radio station, WFTL, said that opposition to the bill was soft at first but grows daily.
"Yes, we believe this is amnesty," Kaufman said. "Citizen activists are outraged."