WASHINGTON – The Senate has passed comprehensive immigration reform.
In a 68-32 vote, the Senate voted Thursday afternoon to pass the “Gang of Eight” bill.
The bill creates a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the states, but requires that certain border security measures — including a “surge” of border patrol agents and the construction of another 350 miles of fencing along the border — be accomplished before any of those people can receive green cards.
The vote fell just shy of the 70-vote goal that several members of the gang had set for the bill, in the hopes that a large showing of bipartisan support would help propel immigration reform through the House of Representatives.
That shortfall, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley told reporters shortly before the vote, would be a “strategic defeat,” as they had hyped the 70-vote goal for so long.
Still, members of the Gang of Eight proclaimed victory.
“We had always said we wanted a large significant number of Republicans, we got them,” Democratic gang member Sen. Chuck Schumer told reporters at a press conference after the vote. “When we said 70 that was our utmost goal. We’re very, very happy with 68.”
Neither Sen. Marco Rubio nor Sen. Jeff Flake, both Republican members of the Gang, attended the press conference. Flake press secretary Genevieve Rozansky told The Daily Caller that the Arizona Senator “had to run to catch a flight.”
Fourteen Republicans joined every Democratic senator in voting for the bill: the four members of the Gang of Eight — Sens. Rubio, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Flake; Sens. Bob Corker and John Hoeven, who crafted the border-security compromise; and Sens. Lamar Alexander, Kelly Ayotte, Lisa Murkowski, Jeff Chiesa, Susan Collins, Orrin Hatch Mark Kirk and Dean Heller.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Republican who at times led the opposition to the bill, said he was disappointed in the result.
“Well, you know, from the beginning there was a desire to do something, but this bill isn’t the right thing to do,” he said.
But he expressed optimism that the House might take up measures that would, in his opinion, vastly improve the bill by increasing border security.
Speaker of the House John Boehner has said the House will craft its own bill instead of taking up the Senate bill. House Judiciary Chairman Dave Camp has said he prefers a piece-by-piece approach to a comprehensive bill, and proposals thus far have focused on border security. (RELATED: Boehner: ‘Hastert rule’ would apply for conference bill on immigration reform)
Vice President Joe Biden presided over the rare vote where every senator sat at his or her desk and voted as the clerk called the roll, lending an air of ceremony to the proceedings. The gallery was full, and so-called DREAMers, students who were brought to the United States illegally as children, packed one section.
When Biden announced that the bill had passed, DREAMers and others erupted into chants of “Yes, we can,” ignoring Biden’s warning seconds earlier that any kind of cheering or booing was not permitted in the chamber.
Giuseppe Macri contributed to this report.