WASHINGTON — Politics still might get in the way of a final agreement on a bipartisan immigration bill.
Now that labor and business have agreed on an immigrant temporary-worker program, a bipartisan group of eight senators say they've cleared every major policy hurdle and are ready to introduce the most dramatic overhaul to the U.S. immigration system in decades.
But first they have to write the bill, and that's rarely an easy task. The "gang of eight" senators have worked out the major concepts, including placing the 11 million illegal immigrants now in the country on a path to citizenship, beefing up border security, establishing a nationwide system to verify the legal status of workers, punishing businesses that hire undocumented immigrants, and allowing more agricultural and highly skilled immigrant workers to stay in the country.
But they still may hit several stumbling blocks, as broad concepts must be turned into specific details that can sustain legal scrutiny.
On Monday, President Barack Obama applauded the progress and promised to remain engaged. But he cautioned that the legislation has yet to be presented, said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
Indeed, one member of the bipartisan team, Sen. Marco Rubio, who's frequently mentioned as a 2016 presidential contender, appeared to be distancing himself from his excited colleagues.
"Reports that the bipartisan group of eight senators have agreed on a legislative proposal are premature," he said in a statement Sunday.
Rubio faces a dilemma. He's a favorite of die-hard conservatives, who have a strong say in Republican politics. But if he has national ambitions, he also must show broad appeal, particularly to the center-right, and immigration might be a key part of such a strategy.
Some political observers questioned whether Rubio was trying to lay the groundwork for removing himself from the group, but analysts such as Lance deHaven-Smith said Rubio had too much to lose.
The political science professor at Florida State University described Rubio as acting like a "reluctant bride." Rubio can't afford to lose Hispanic support by walking away from the agreement, deHaven said.
"But on the other hand, if he rushes to this with open arms and culminates the marriage with glee, he alienates the tea party. He's going to the altar with his head down and shuffling," the professor said.