WASHINGTON – The full Senate body begins deliberations Tuesday on the immigration reform bill, and will cast its first votes on the highly charged issue later in the day.
The bill, crafted by the bipartisan Gang of Eight – Sens. John McCain, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Marco Rubio, Michael Bennet, Jeff Flake, Bob Menendez and Lindsey Graham – has spent the past few weeks in the Judiciary Committee, where several amendments have been added to it.
The two votes that the Senate will take on Tuesday afternoon are purely procedural: on whether or not to move forward with debate on the bill.
Concerns remain among a number of Republicans in both the House and the Senate that the bill falls short on increasing border security, among other things.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking on the floor Tuesday morning, expressed those concerns, saying that while he agreed the “current system is broken” and big changes needed to be made, that “[a]t the risk of stating the obvious, this bill has serious flaws.”
“I’ll vote to debate it and for the opportunity to amend it, but in the days ahead there will need to be major changes to this bill if it’s going to become law. These include, but are not limited to, the areas of border security, government benefits, and taxes,” he said.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn has proposed an amendment that would greatly increase the thresholds for border security required before illegal immigrants could begin to gain legal status. In an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News Monday, the Minority Whip said that unless the “flaws” in the bill’s handling of border security were “corrected, I will not be able to support the legislation.”
Rubio, considered a crucial figure in the debate, has said he supports the amendment.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, however, made clear that that Cornyn’s amendment was a non-starter, calling it a “poison pill” on Sunday, Politico reported.
Speaking on the floor Tuesday morning, he said that the bill as it stands now already “takes important steps to secure the border.” He said he would be open to considering amendments on border security, but only if they were sincerely intended to help the U.S. better secure its borders — not if they were intended to hold up or kill the immigration bill.
Increased border security could be a necessity to getting whatever bill the Senate passes through the Republican controlled House. Speaker of the House John Boehner expressed optimism that immigration reform could pass, but cautioned that such changes were necessary.
“I think by the end of the year, we could have a bill,” he said in an interviewed that aired Tuesday on Good Morning America, The Hill reported.
“But,” he cautioned, “especially in the area of border security and internal enforcement of this system I’m concerned that it doesn’t go far enough.”
President Barack Obama was scheduled to speak in support of the bill shortly after the Senate gaveled in at 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning.