Lott said that supporters of the legislation still haven't come up with an argument as concise and effective as that one word — "amnesty" — from opponents. He said he's spoken with Rubio, among others, to make clear that supporters of the bill need to hone their arguments.
"Last time our explanation was three paragraphs. Theirs was a word," Lott said. When that happens, he said, "You're dead."
The Democratic-led Senate, where the Judiciary Committee takes up the bill on Thursday, is already going to be a tough challenge. But if the bill does pass the Senate, opponents are betting it gets stopped in the Republican-led House. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers has been promising for months to release their own bill mirroring elements of the Senate legislation but taking a tougher tack. So far they haven't delivered.
Meanwhile, to the dismay of immigration advocates, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has announced plans to move forward with individual, single-issue immigration bills, rejecting the comprehensive approach in the Senate that's backed by President Barack Obama, who's made immigration legislation a top second-term priority. The legislation was also a priority in 2007 for then-President George W. Bush, but he was unsuccessful in persuading Republican lawmakers to get behind the bill, and Democrats who at the time controlled Congress were divided, too.
In the 2007 debate, a turning point came when the conservative Heritage Foundation released a report saying that the legislation would cost taxpayers $2.6 trillion, including benefits to immigrants and other expenditures. Although the analysis was disputed it carried weight with GOP lawmakers. Now under the leadership of former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., another lead opponent of the legislation in 2007, Heritage was releasing an updated version of that report on Monday claiming that the new bill costs a whopping $6.3 trillion. That's mostly from more than $9 trillion in government benefits Heritage says would go to newly legalized immigrants over their lifetimes, only partly counterbalanced by $3 trillion they would pay in taxes.