Here’s an inside view from a Senate staffer with good reason to know what was going on:
The answer to your question — could there be a good bill — is emphatically “no.”
But it’s worse than that. There were already more than 60 votes in the Democrat-controlled Senate to pass a straight-up McCain-Kennedy bill before this whole conversation ever started. The Krikorians of the world were facing defeat from the moment we lost last fall’s election.
So why are there conservatives in this deal? Why Kyl, Cornyn, Isakson, Chambliss? Because McCain, Graham, and Martinez (those three in particular) wanted to use them as political cover, which they are already doing aggressively. (Graham at press conference Thursday: “This bill couldn’t happen without Jon Kyl.”)
So they told Kennedy that he had to satisfy Kyl and the others. The conservatives saw this as an opportunity to get real enforcement and to create a merit-based system to replace chain migration for the future. They were getting something for nothing, because amnesty was already going to happen regardless. After all, some form of amnesty was the Democrats’ non-negotiable demand, and the President had already advocated it repeatedly.
But McCain’s crowd kept saying that no deal could be done without Kyl etc., right? Sure, they said it. And if the conservatives had walked away, the negotiations would have stopped for all of about 1 week, at which point the White House would come calling, asking their hand-picked RNC Chairman to help them cut the best deal they could with Kennedy, the conservatives be damned.
And Martinez would have done it, in a heartbeat, because he thinks people living in shadows is the worst thing since … well, I was going to say “Castro” but that’s too harsh.
And let’s not be fooled into thinking that McCain would have had political qualms about going that direction; after all, he was thrilled jump into the camera frame with Ted Kennedy at the Thursday press conference.
No, the original pro-amnesty coalition from last year would have more-or-less held together, the enforcement demands would have been gutted, and there would be an expansion of family-based chain migration, not an elimination. The President, willing to partner with anybody to get ANY bill, would easily have signed.
The question was whether a bad bill would be downright horrid, or merely odious. Kyl at least thinks he got the latter.
Of course, this bill never becomes law, but that’s another discussion.