WASHINGTON — The Senate cast its first major vote on immigration reform Monday, voting to end debate on a compromise border security amendment that is expected to bring the necessary Republicans on board to pass the full comprehensive immigration reform bill authored by the Gang of Eight.
The Senate voted to end debate on the amendment that contains the border security compromise authored by Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota. The amendment is seen as a compromise palatable to both Republicans and Democrats that will help get the necessary number of votes to pass the immigration bill authored by the bipartisan Gang of Eight: Sens. John McCain, Chuck Schumer, Michael Bennet, Jeff Flake, Bob Menendez, Marco Rubio, Dick Durbin, and Lindsey Graham.
The vote count was 67-26, three votes shy of the 70 votes that proponents of the bill like Sen. Lindsey Graham have said they want on the final bill in order to give it momentum heading to the House.
Fifteen Republicans voted in favor of cloture: the four Republican members of the Gang of Eight, Corker and Hoeven, and Sens. Lamar Alexander, Kelly Ayotte, Jeff Chiesa, Orrin Hatch, Dean Heller, Mark Kirk, Lisa Murkowski, and Roger Wicker.
Several senators were not present due to air travel. Monday is the day when many senators fly from their home states back to Washington. Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia were not present, and neither were Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Mark Udall of Colorado.
Republican Sens. Ted Cruz, Jeff Sessions, David Vitter, Jim Inhofe and Mike Lee spent the day vehemently opposing the planned vote, protesting that, among other problems with the bill, the language of the amendment had not been filed until Friday evening, and that senators had not had sufficient time to read it.
The amendment requires that “registered provisional immigrants” are not eligible to receive green cards until at least 10 years after the bill is put into effect, and until the Homeland Security secretary has certified that an additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents have been deployed along the border, at least 700 miles of fencing has been completed, and several new technologies have been put into effect.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed disappointment with the bill, saying it “does not include that guarantee” of securing the border, and adding that the debate had been too short.
Corker, speaking to reporters before the vote had officially ended, but after the necessary 60 aye votes had been cast to pass cloture, told reporters that his amendment had been “crucial” to securing the necessary support for the bill, not just from Republicans, but from Democrats.
“If you want to know the truth, we had some Democrats, too, that were concerned about border security that had some qualms,” he said.
Hoeven told reporters that he felt “we have the opportunity to get some more” Republicans, “another four or five,” voting for the final immigration bill, if more Republicans can have the opportunity to file amendments. Corker said they were working on a deal to allow each side to file 10 amendments to the bill.
Hoeven pointed to Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who voted against filing cloture, but who Hoeven said they might be able to bring on board if he were allowed to file his E-verify amendment. That amendment, Hoeven said, might get “two or three” more Republicans. He said they were also working with Sen. Chambliss “on some things.” Chambliss was one of the senators not present at the vote due to flight plans, Corker said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he plans to pass the full “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill before the Senate recesses at the end of this week. A spokesman for Reid said this morning that “he will stick to that timeline.”
Giuseppe Macri contributed to this report.