Congress Nears Agreements On Guns And Immigration

Apr 10, 2013
Originally published on April 10, 2013 12:23 pm

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Robin Kelly's in in Chicago, Anthony Weiner wants back in in New York, and Mitch McConnell claims somebody broke in and bugged his campaign office. It's Wednesday and time for...

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Nixonian...

CONAN: Edition of the Political Junkie.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

SENATOR LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to review the week in politics. No drama as Robin Kelly easily wins Jesse Jackson Junior's former seat in Illinois. Scott Brown considers a carpet-bag move to New Hampshire. Mitch McConnell attacks the messenger after Mother Jones puts out an embarrassing leaked tape.

The Gang of Eight immigration bill may have to wait until next week, but two key senators reach a bipartisan deal on background checks. Updates on immigration and guns in a few minutes, plus later in the program interfaith relationships. But first political junkie Ken Rudin joins us, as usual, here in Studio 3A. And as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Welcome back from the beach.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Thank you, speaking of interfaith relationships: Hi Neal.

CONAN: Hi there.

RUDIN: OK, yeah, well anyway, you mentioned Scott Brown was talking about that he has not ruled out running for the Senate next year in New Hampshire against Democratic incumbent Jean Shaheen. Brown, of course, was a senator from Massachusetts until his defeat in 2012. The question is: Who was the last member of Congress to serve in more than one state?

CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, the last member of Congress to serve in more than one state...

RUDIN: Not at the same time of course.

CONAN: Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. The winner of course gets a free political junkie T-shirt and the fabulous no-prize button. Ken, we begin when we can with actual votes.

RUDIN: Well, there was actual votes, yesterday, in Illinois's Second Congressional District. That's the Chicago South Side and the suburbs. This is the district that Jesse Jackson Jr. left in disgrace last November after a whole bunch of ethics violations and, of course, some health problems, as well. Anyway, Robin Kelly easily won the district that's overwhelmingly Democratic. As you know, Neal, your favorite word is tantamount.

CONAN: Tantamount.

RUDIN: Yes, well, when she won the February Democratic primary thanks to Michael Bloomberg's PAC - anti-NRA and anti-guns PAC, Robin Kelly was the beneficiary of that. And so she will - she won with 74 percent of the vote, an easy win as expected. She could become - you know, the way like Carolyn McCarthy of Long Island has always been the go-to person when you talk about gun violence.

I mean, nothing terrible has happened in Robin Kelly's family, as far as I know.

CONAN: McCarthy's husband was murdered.

RUDIN: Of course, and her son was shot, as well, but that she owes her election perhaps to the rising anti-gun sentiment, at least in Chicago's Second District.

CONAN: And we still have some upcoming special elections for the Senate in Massachusetts for the House in South Carolina and Missouri.

RUDIN: We do. On April 30, that's the Massachusetts Senate Primary. The big news there, of course, is the Democratic side between Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch.

CONAN: Civil debate last night. What is this?

RUDIN: We can't have that. Sybil Burton was, of course, Richard Burton's wife. But not enough - of course there's a Republican...

CONAN: One of his wives.

RUDIN: One of his wives, right. On May 7th is South Carolina's First Congressional District. That's Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert Busch. On June 4, the Missouri special election, the seat that Jo Ann Emerson, a Republican left, resigned. And on June 25 is the Massachusetts special election.

CONAN: And you mentioned the South Carolina race, where of course former Governor Mark Sanford is trying to make a redemption run. And, well, in New York it looks like Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former congressman, might try a run for mayor if people can stomach that.

Well, I think it's a little below the stomach, but I'm sorry. But anyway, no, actually what it is is that, you know, we talk about redemption, and of course Mark Sanford talked about that. Then we make jokes about the Appalachian Trail and soul mates and everything. Somehow Weiner jokes don't work as well.

RUDIN: But the point is is that Anthony Weiner was - ran for mayor in 2005, lost the Democratic primary, was ready to run again in 2009, but he didn't like the way that Michael Bloomberg has all this money. And he was planning to run until, you know, until the scandal last June, 2011, when he tweeted pictures of his crotch, I guess, to - and of course that appeared everywhere.

First he said his tweet was hacked, and then he said that it was, you know, dirty tricks. Then ultimately he admitted it, and he resigned from Congress.

CONAN: And his interview, he and his wife gave an interview to the New York Times magazine, which is already on their website and will appear in Sunday's issue of that newspaper.

RUDIN: The New York Times magazine, right. And he also - he has $4.3 million in his bank account. He wants to be mayor of New York, and he thinks...

CONAN: He was planning for mayor of New York all along.

RUDIN: He certainly was, and he was a frontrunner, actually, until that scandal. He thinks people will look the other way. But look, just like Mark Sanford in South Carolina, you know, you have to see what...

CONAN: The Republican nomination for - I guess, anyway...

RUDIN: That would be a fun race, right.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have the unusual case in Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, of course the minority leader in the United States Senate, taped by a leaker who gave the tape to Mother Jones saying very embarrassing things. Opposition research mostly very, well, nasty things about the person he thought might be an opponent at the time, Ashley Judd.

RUDIN: Well, here's what we know. We know that Mitch McConnell says that his campaign office was bugged. This was a February 2nd meeting of Mitch McConnell, who was there most of the time with some of his campaign aides. And they were talking about how to go against their Democratic opponents. At the time, Ashley Judd looked like the leading Democrat there.

And they were talking about - they were making fun of her mental illness, and she had suicidal tendencies when she was a youngster, all these kind of things, and they were kind of having a good time with it. So the left says, you know, they're attacking women, they're mocking depression, you know, how can you mock candidates for depression.

And to hear - and Mitch McConnell and the Republicans saying wait a second, this is illegal bugging. Somebody illegally taped this conversation. Why is the left, which is so angry at illegal wiretaps, suddenly why are they celebrating this tape? But anyway...

CONAN: Mother Jones says it was not - they did not bug his office, they obtained the tape from a source.

RUDIN: And Mother Jones is also - David Corn, the writer, who was the same guy who had that 47 percent tape, surreptitious tape of Mitt Romney during that luncheon. So they've gotten some juicy stuff.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and that is the last member of Congress to serve from two different states, 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. We'll start with Robert, and Robert with us from Baltimore.

ROBERT: Dennis Kucinich?

RUDIN: Well good answer, although Dennis Kucinich didn't do it. Of course when he was...

ROBERT: Oh that's right, he was going to run in Washington.

RUDIN: In Washington state. He thought about it. But it would have been Dennis, but he didn't do it.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much for the call. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Donna, Donna with us from Kansas City.

DONNA: Yes, I was going to guess Hillary Clinton.

CONAN: Well, Hillary Clinton of course grew up in Illinois, came to - served as a lawyer in Arkansas and first lady of Arkansas, and then of course is a senator from New York.

RUDIN: But of course only ran for one office, and that was in New York. She never ran for another office, unlike - not including the presidency, but for different states, right.

CONAN: All right, thanks, Donna. Let's see if we can go next to - this is James, James with us from Winston-Salem.

JAMES: Yes, is it Lamar Alexander?

RUDIN: Lamar Alexander was elected both governor and senator but both from Tennessee, not from any other state.

CONAN: What about that flannel shirt, though?

RUDIN: That's right.

JAMES: I thought he was in Kentucky.

RUDIN: No, no, you're thinking of Ashley Judd. Oh no, no, she's from Tennessee.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Thanks very much. Let's go to Scott and Scott with us from Southbury, Connecticut.

SCOTT: Hello, gentlemen. My guess is Robert F. Kennedy.

RUDIN: Robert F. Kennedy, until he ran for president in '68 and, of course, assassinated while he was running for president, only ran for one office. He did grow up in Massachusetts, but he did run for the Senate from New York in 1964. That's the only office he ran for.

SCOTT: Well, thank you very much.

CONAN: Thanks very much. Let's go to John, John with us from Salem, Massachusetts.

JOHN: Hi, is it Ed Markey?

RUDIN: Well, Ed Markey, again, is the congressman from Massachusetts. He's been there since 1977. But that's the only - I mean, he may have served in local office before that, but he's only from Massachusetts, hasn't run for Congress from any other state.

JOHN: Oh, I thought it was Maryland.

CONAN: OK, thanks very much. Let's see if we can go next to Leslie, Leslie with us from Oakland.

LESLIE: Yes, hi, I want to say Ed Foreman.

RUDIN: Ed Foreman? Who's that? Wait a second, that's the right answer.

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Sorry, I just thought I'd...

CONAN: It's not April Fool's, Ken.

RUDIN: How do people know this? Anyway Ed Foreman was elected...

CONAN: Oh wait a minute, Wayne sent in an email. We have Ed Foreman on email. So we have two winners.

RUDIN: So we have two, then it's Ed Eightman, not Foreman...

CONAN: Oh ha, ha, ha, ha.

RUDIN: Anyway, Ed Foreman was elected to the House from Texas in 1962, defeated in '64, then moved to New Mexico, elected to the House in '68, defeated in 1970. Ed Foreman is the correct answer.

CONAN: So Leslie, stay on the line, and we will collect your particulars and send you a free political junkie T-shirt and of course the fabulous no-prize political junkie button. And congratulations.

LESLIE: OK, I'm thrilled, thank you.

CONAN: Thank you.

RUDIN: Did she sound thrilled?

CONAN: She sounded thrilled.

RUDIN: OK, all right.

CONAN: That's what thrilled is like Oakland.

RUDIN: Well, you know, I don't know, OK.

CONAN: All right, in the meantime we have some - well, we mentioned some people who might be running for office. Scott Brown might run for Senate in New Hampshire, as he said. But...

RUDIN: Did you know, by the way, Daniel Webster was elected to the House from New Hampshire...

CONAN: The devil, you say.

RUDIN: And the Senate from Massachusetts. So Daniel Webster did serve in both those two states.

CONAN: Chelsea Clinton did not rule out the possibility that one day, maybe, under certain circumstances...

RUDIN: She said she would do that, and not only is Chelsea Clinton talking about it, of course, she said this on NBC News and in an interview with Parade magazine. But also, not only is her mother thinking about running for office...

CONAN: What's her name?

RUDIN: Hillary. Hillary Clinton, talking about 2016. But her mother-in-law...

CONAN: What happens at the beach? Never mind, moving right along.

RUDIN: Do we have a two-hour show? Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky is Chelsea Clinton's mother-in-law, former member of Congress from Pennsylvania.

CONAN: Buck's County, wasn't it?

RUDIN: I think Buck's or Montgomery. I think it was Buck's County, but 13th District. Allyson Schwartz, who is a member of Congress now, is going to run for governor of Pennsylvania next year. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky...

CONAN: Do we have to say that three times fast?

RUDIN: Exactly, is talking about running for the office that she held for one term in the 1990s.

CONAN: And there is also some controversy, this week, over the trip to Cuba by Beyonce and Jay-Z, a of course celebrity couple. The administration says they are - they're on cultural exchange visas. This is all perfectly legal. Some members of Congress a little upset with that, including the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

RUDIN: Right, and she said that this is just violating some U.S. laws, and they said no. But do you know who wasn't too unhappy with it?

CONAN: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, of course.

RUDIN: Exactly, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. But Dennis Rodman wasn't unhappy about that.

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: He said it was OK with him.

CONAN: OK, political junkie Ken Rudin is with us every Wednesday, and he will be staying with us. After a short break, we're going to turn to the wheeling and dealing on guns and immigration. We'll be back in just a minute. Ken, stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. Wednesday means it's Political Junkie day, and Ken Rudin is with us here in Studio 3A. You will remember that last week, he was at the beach. So, Ken, I'm guessing no new ScuttleButton, no new column this week.

RUDIN: That's correct, but we do have two ScuttleButton winners to announce. Two weeks ago, there was a button with a big capital L, then a capital M, and then another button with a capital N and the name Terry. It became elementary, my dear Watson.

CONAN: I see.

RUDIN: That was Jeff Troia of Madison, Wisconsin. He is the winner. Last week was a tougher puzzle. It said reelect Roy Dyson, the best man for Bay Country, woo-woo with a picture of a train, let's get a straight vote for Davis in the Eighth District, and finally Kennedy is sex, but McCarthy is love.

CONAN: And the answer was?

RUDIN: Well, the answer is - I put that puzzle up on April 1st. It had nothing to do with anything. But Laurie Rose(ph)....

CONAN: Ooh, see, that's mean.

RUDIN: I know, I know, but the woo-woo is what threw people.

CONAN: The woo-woo, OK.

RUDIN: But anyway, Laurie Rose of Greenbackville, Virginia, is the winner.

CONAN: All right.

RUDIN: She said - let me tell you, she said: After struggling for hours with this week's puzzle, I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is no solution. It's an April Fool's prank.

CONAN: There you go. All right, well, Ken Rudin will prank us all again next week when he gets his column and a new ScuttleButton puzzle up. Of course, the winners get that free Political Junkie T-shirt....

RUDIN: Unbelievable.

CONAN: ...and that fabulous Political Junkie button, the no-prize button. This morning, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania announced a deal to expand background checks for gun purchases. The agreement would require all buyers, even those at gun shows, to pass a check by a federally licensed dealer. The measure is the latest in the debate on gun control legislation.

John Gramlich covers legal affairs for CQ Roll Call, and joins us by phone from Capitol Hill. Good to have you with us today.

JOHN GRAMLICH: Thanks for having me on the show.

CONAN: And what's the basis of this Manchin-Toomey compromise?

RUDIN: The basis of it is that it would require background checks on all commercial gun sales. Now, the operative word there is commercial, because what President Barack Obama and the Democrats have been pushing up until this point is private gun sales. So this would only require background checks for commercial gun sales, including those at gun shows.

CONAN: So it would close the so-called gun show loophole, but if a family member wanted to give or sell a gun to another family member, that would not be covered.

GRAMLICH: That's exactly right. And actually, that family member exemption is included in the bill as it was currently written. There are some exemptions in it. But this would also cover neighbor-to-neighbor sales, for example. All private sales are exempted from this bill.

CONAN: And so, given that, is it likely to get a lot of support in the Senate?

GRAMLICH: It seems that way. Senator John Cornyn said earlier today that he was very encouraged by the deal. And, of course, Pat Toomey is not your moderate Republican...

CONAN: Former president for the Club for Growth.

GRAMLICH: Exactly. He's a really conservative gun-rights proponent. And so his support is seen as essential to this. And we're still tallying votes here on how many people would be behind it. But it does seem to be a pretty big development.

CONAN: And the idea was - this going back initially after the reaction to Newtown - if they could get, oh, 75, maybe even 80 senators to vote in favor of this, it might be unstoppable in the House.

GRAMLICH: Exactly. And Senator Toomey said that today. He said that he's already gotten word from House Republicans who are supportive of this approach. So he didn't mention whether that would include people like, say, House Speaker John Boehner or Majority Leader Eric Cantor. But he seems to be implying that there would be momentum in the House for this kind of deal.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: John, this certainly seems to give cover to many red-state Democrats who are nervous about voting for, of course, an assault weapons ban, which Harry Reid said they don't have the votes for. But the Dianne Feinsteins of the world, the Chuck Schumers of the world, the Frank Lautenbergs of the world, how happy are they with this kind of a compromise?

GRAMLICH: Well, Frank Lautenberg has been pushing to close the gun show loophole for more than a decade, actually. And so he put out a statement saying that he was very happy that that was addressed in the bill, but that he was also still reviewing the details of the legislation.

And I've been doing that, too. And when you look into the details of it, there are provisions in there that actually expand gun rights. And so by tomorrow at this time, you may have the Dianne Feinsteins of the world saying that they may actually have some concerns with the bill.

CONAN: Another of the three things that President Obama said he wanted, the assault weapons ban, universal background checks and then the ban on sales of magazines that have more than 15 rounds.

GRAMLICH: Yeah, that's right. And both of those, the assault weapons ban and the high-capacity magazine ban, are going to come up as amendments to the underlying measure, and both of those are expected to fail. And then this deal announced today, I should add, is going to be an amendment. It's not going to be included in the legislation itself. It's going to be the first amendment, according to Senator Reid.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Now, John, obviously, the reason Manchin and Toomey came together, it was obviously to try to get both sides on the same team. But is there still a possibility of a Republican filibuster?

GRAMLICH: It doesn't seem that way, just because there are enough Republicans now who have come out and said that they would not support a filibuster. And so it seems like they can at least get on to the legislation itself. But they might filibuster that when the time comes for that.

CONAN: Does that represent something of an awakening for Republicans like, well, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz?

GRAMLICH: So far, no go on that. They say they're still going to filibuster the so-called motion to proceed to the bill. So they are still very much against even beginning debate on the bill.

CONAN: One other point, and this was, in fact, sponsored by four senators, two Democrats and two Republicans. Mark Kirk of Illinois was the other Republican. Chuck Schumer of New York was the other Democrat. Where were they when this bill was announced?

GRAMLICH: That's a really good question, and actually, my colleague at Roll Call today reported that there may have been some intentional maneuvering around the presentment of this bill, and that Senator Toomey - being a conservative Republican and a very strong supporter of gun rights - actually asked that Senator Schumer not appear with him on the same podium.

CONAN: He didn't want to stand next to Chuck Schumer?

GRAMLICH: That's what we've been reporting. And so, you know, obviously, the optics around this are very important, and Chuck Schumer is not seen as someone that conservative Republicans love working with too much.

CONAN: You also never want to stand between Chuck Schumer and a camera. You never want to do that. Right.

GRAMLICH: That's true, the most dangerous place in Washington.

CONAN: It's said to be. Also, so then Senator Kirk would have bowed out, as well, to I guess make it, what, look good.

GRAMLICH: It could be. That could be.

CONAN: All right, and so what happens next?

GRAMLICH: What happens next is that there is either going to be a deal to proceed to the debates tonight, or failing that, there's going to be a vote tomorrow on that. And then the bill will finally come to the floor itself. And this sets up, really, a whole other set of challenges, because they're going to require 60 votes to pass this bill, and there are going to be an untold number of amendments, and definitely some of those amendments are going to be supported by the NRA and try to weaken some of the language that's in there now.

CONAN: And as, again as you say, looking at this legislation, you say there's some pro-gun legislation there. What kind of thing are you talking about? I know you just had a chance to glance at it, but...

GRAMLICH: Well, for example, Senator Toomey said today that active duty military, under current law, are barred from buying guns in their home states. They can only buy them in the states to which - where their bases are. And so he would get rid of that. In addition, he would make it easier for people with concealed carry permits to carry their firearms across state lines. That is not always easy to do now, and that's been something that Republicans have pushed for a long time. And that seems to be folded into this proposal.

CONAN: And there are other measures, as you suggest. Senator Grassley, for example, is thinking about proposing a bill, too.

GRAMLICH: Senator Grassley is working on a bill. We're not quite sure what's in that one yet. Then there's another measure that Senator Graham and Senator Flake, along with some conservative Democrats, have been pushing, which changes the way that mental health records are shared with the background check system.

Now, that bill has the support from the NRA, but it actually has - is strongly opposed by Mayor Bloomberg's group, who says that it weakens the system and would allow far more people with mental illness to get guns.

CONAN: So when we're talking timeline, when might you expect a final bill to emerge? When might you expect a final vote on that bill?

GRAMLICH: I would expect a final vote sometime next week, maybe towards the end of next week. But, again, this all depends on how many amendments are going to be allowed to be offered. I mean, we had that vote-o-rama here the other day, and it's not going to be anything quite like that. But if there are a significant number of amendments from both sides, that could drag it into the following week.

CONAN: All right. John Gramlich, we know you've got other things to do. We appreciate your taking your time.

GRAMLICH: Thanks very much for having me.

CONAN: John Gramlich is a legal affairs reporter for CQ Roll Call, joined us by phone from Capitol Hill. The other hot topic on the Hill this week is immigration reform. The Gang of Eight, a group of senators working on a reform proposal, is expected to release their plan soon, but soon is depending on whose definition, and details remain murky.

Anna Palmer is a reporter for Politico. She's been following the immigration reform story, and she joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.

ANNA PALMER: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And what's going on here? We have some members of the Gang of Eight saying, well, by the end of this week. Other members of the Gang of Eight say whoa, whoa, whoa, we don't want to railroad anything. Maybe next week.

PALMER: Well, there was a development yesterday where Senator Rubio, who's really been the senator kind of slow-walking this, saying we need to go through regular order. It could be a couple of weeks. All of the senators made an agreement where they decided they were going to come forward with a proposal as soon as today or tomorrow.

There's still some of the details that are being worked out. There's businesses that are upset by it. This is certainly - even once they unveil the final legislation, there's going to be a lot of issues and kind of lobbying. And, you know, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Leahy, has said that they're going to look to mark it up as soon as Wednesday, if not the following week.

CONAN: And when you say there's a deal, a deal is not a bill. You've got to then write the legislation. You draft the bill. That can take time, too.

PALMER: Well, that's what - behind the scenes, the staff has been working on. There was a two-week congressional recess, and where they have kind of been drafting this. And there's been specific provisions that still don't have the language yet, particularly on the agri-business side.

CONAN: And that is, we're told, remember there was the deal between the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, a big part of this agreement. Now there is a deal being brokered, we're told, by Senator Feinstein between the California - the farm workers union and growers in California.

PALMER: Absolutely. So talks have been going on for the last week between agri-business and some of the workers, and it's on kind of the specific program that will deal just with those kind of seasonal workers that come in and do a lot of the crop work. And so there's been - they've been kind of a detente until, you know, yesterday, where the workers came up with a proposal on wages. And in terms of the number of visas they're looking at, we're reporting today 200,000 new visas for agri-business workers, and then also a wage program that will be kind of in six different categories, depending on, you know, how technical of a work it would be.

CONAN: And overall, we're told of a 10-year period to - if you're in the country illegally, you would have to wait 10 years before you might become a citizen, except if you're an agricultural worker, it could be seven years to encourage people to stay on in working in that extremely arduous, but important part of the economy.

PALMER: Yeah. They're looking to have a separate program just for the agri-business farmers, where they want to keep them a little longer, instead of the one-year period for visas. They want to extend that to two or three, and then also kind of a separate program for legalization, or a path to legalization.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: And a lot of this, of course, is about doing the right thing. There are 11 million undocumented people in the country who this is concerning, obviously. A lot of it also politics, and the Republican Party learned that in 2012. And Marco Rubio seems to be the go-to guy, the Republicans' go-to guy. How much pressure is he on from every side on this issue?

PALMER: Huge. I mean, for a first-term senator to be taking this role - certainly, he's not your average first-term senator, but he today went and talked to the Republican conference and stood in front of them and talked to them and tried to sell this deal for them. And it's going to be absolutely key, particularly when you start seeing on the right, there's been a lot of ginning up of talk radio where they're, you know, calling for amnesty. You have Senator Sessions...

CONAN: I'm sure they're denouncing what they call amnesty.

PALMER: Yeah. Absolutely. But calling that this bill, that this is for amnesty, and so trying to really get, you know, people's phones in their congressional offices ringing off the hook to make people nervous about voting for this bill.

CONAN: On the other side, of course, you have thousands of people in Washington today, as we speak. I gather they're marching, as it happens, right in front our building at the moment, on their way back from Capitol Hill to demand that this bill, or something like it, get passed now.

PALMER: Absolutely. I was in the Capitol this morning, and there were some of these agri-business workers. And they were chanting and cheering, and really trying to kind of make the point, and they've been speaking with a lot of the negotiators just about how important this is and how much this is a real-life issue, not just, you know, a regular politics as usual where, you know, people can get bogged in - down on these 500-page papers, that this is people's lives.

CONAN: We're talking with Anna Palmer of Politico. Of course, Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday, except when he's at the beach. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. And it's astonishing that we are at this point, when what just a year and a half ago, there was a refusal to pass the DREAM Act, which would have been a very modest improvement on the immigration issue. Republicans refused to go along with that. Of course, the intervening event was the election.

PALMER: Absolutely. It's pretty stunning. There hasn't been any appetite on Capitol Hill to deal with immigration reform since the 2006-2007 kind of debacle, where it went up in flames. Since then, it's been very, you know, an untouchable topic. And right now, since November, you know, this has been all that we've been focused on, on Capitol Hill.

CONAN: And, Ken, well, I don't know if you had a question...

RUDIN: No, I just was going to say that that's too bad. A lot of things - gay marriage, guns, immigration, these are issues that just seem to be such hot potatoes that people wouldn't touch. And now there seems to be such a clear avalanche of momentum in their favor for these kind of changes. It's pretty remarkable.

CONAN: Well, I was going to ask about that. During his first term, Republicans were very reluctant to give President Obama anything that might look like a victory. Of course, he had to push through the health care reform with no Republican votes. Now, well, he's going to have problems on the budget, but in the meantime, yes, gay marriage, and we have guns and immigration. They all look like they may - it's early yet - may be going through.

RUDIN: But in fairness, I mean, Republicans were also against George W. Bush, who wanted to make these changes in immigration law, as well. Remember, it was the Chamber of Commerce, John McCain and George W. Bush, and maybe nobody else. The Republican Party said, uh-uh. We're not going - as Anna says, we're not going for this amnesty. So it's not just Obama they wanted to stop. As it turns out, it seems to be, again, heading in that direction.

CONAN: Anna Palmer, John Gramlich told us about the timeline on guns. They hope to get that through next week. What's the timeline on an immigration bill?

PALMER: Well, the negotiators have said they definitely want to have a hearing. That could be as early as next week. But realistically, I'm - as a congressional person who's up in the Capitol every day, I would imagine that it might not - it might be - that deadline might slip. So I think the people that are hoping that this passes really want to get it done before the August recess. That's very quick in terms of the - getting the Senate and the House to move on this.

CONAN: And, again, we were talking about the idea of getting a gun bill through the Senate with a lot of votes to give it impetus in the House. How many votes might an immigration bill need if it's going to get through the House of Representatives?

PALMER: Getting immigration reform through the House of Representatives is a whole other story. Certainly, there's been another group of members that have been working on this, but unlike the Senate, I think one of the really important things to think about is these senators have a long time before they're up for reelection. Every House member only has two years. So they're going to be taking these votes that are tough, and they're already going to get into their election cycle.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: But a lot of Republicans, of course, are in very safe districts, where they're not so worried, necessarily, about 2014.

PALMER: Absolutely. I think the other issue there is they've been kind of gerrymandered. So a lot of them don't have a huge Hispanic or Latino population. So they may not be hearing, necessarily, the need to get something like this done in the House.

CONAN: And it's going to be a very complicated bill, I think more complicated than the guns bill - so it will probably take, as you suggest. If they can get it done before Labor Day, that will be, well, remarkable. But anyway, Anna Palmer, I'm sure we'll be checking back in. Thanks very much for your time.

PALMER: Thanks a lot.

CONAN: Anna Palmer, a reporter for Politico, joined us here in Studio 3A. Ken Rudin, our Political Junkie, will be back with us next week. Ken, as always, thanks very much for your time.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: When we come back from a short break, we're going to be talking about the promises of interfaith marriages. Though they're so commonplace, that worrying about them might seem a bit, well, antiquated, our next guest found that we have not really gotten any better at navigating their ins and outs. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.