Senate Immigration Bill Clears Key Test Vote

June 24, 2013 3:00 p.m.

The only thing left standing in the way of Senate passage of immigration reform legislation is time.

On Monday, the Senate cleared a key test vote that all but guarantees the overall bill will pass later this week, leaving the fate of immigration reform in the hands of the House of Representatives.The vote was on an amendment to the overall bill that represented a compromise to secure passage.

The so-called Hoeven-Corker amendment reflects an agreement to send thousands of agents to the U.S.-Mexican border to assure that the legislation’s path to citizenship for existing immigrants will be accompanied by heightened border security — one of the essential tradeoffs in the legislation.

The amendment was structured to secure Republican buy-in — and lock in their support through final passage. Instead of narrowly amending the bill to strengthen the border security provisions, the amendment itself also contains the text of every other provision of the bigger bill.

In other words all the members who supported ending debate on the amendment have made themselves half pregnant with the broader legislation. In that sense it establishes a likely baseline for how many votes the plan will get when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid holds the final passage vote later this week.

And that remains Reid’s intention.

The 67-27 vote also reflected the fact that over a dozen Republicans were ready to end debate, and hold a final vote, and suggests the bill will pass the Senate with overwhelming support. Moreover, several senators missed the vote because inclement weather delayed their flights back to Washington.

In a final effort to convince GOP colleagues to delay the process further, fourteen Republican members who oppose the bill wrote to Reid Monday seeking more time for debate and votes on amendments.

But Reid remains committed.

“If these senators want to vote on more amendments, they should direct their concerns inward and work to generate more Republican cooperation as we move forward,” Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said. “Senator Reid has been clear for over a month that he intends to finish this bill by the end of the week, and he will stick to that timeline.”

The development fulfills the authors’ intention of pressuring Speaker John Boehner to pass their bill or something similar. The environment in the House makes it difficult to imagine Boehner passing immigration reform legislation that enjoys the support of the majority of his conference. If that’s true, it will fall to him and the leadership team to determine whether to bring legislation to the floor anyhow, in the longer-term interests of the party, or allow the entire reform push to fail. In addition to creating pressure on Boehner to act, a strong Senate showing — including support from some trusted conservatives — is intended to provide GOP leaders cover to do the former.

The 27 Senators who voted no were all Republicans. Voting for the bill were Republicans authors John Hoeven (R-ND) and Bob Corker (D-TN), along with Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Jeff Chiesa (R-NJ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dean Heller (D-NV), Mark Kirk (R-IL), John McCain (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Roger Wicker (D-MS).

Missing the vote were likely supporters Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Mark Udall, (D-CO), possible supporters Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and likely opponents Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Mike Lee (R-UT).

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