By Ramsey Cox
GOP members of the Gang of Eight — Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) — voted against Lee's amendment, along with Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine).
“Congress must be able to vote on the border enforcement strategy,” Lee said ahead of the vote. “To cut Congress out cuts out the American people.”
Lee argued that a fast-track vote would allow the Senate to vote with a majority threshold on whether the Department of Homeland Security is keeping its promises before allowing immigrants to start the pathway to citizenship.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) urged his colleagues to oppose Lee's amendment because it would "delay" the pathway to citizenship.
The Senate is considering the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. Amendment work on the bill is expected throughout the week.
The bipartisan group of eight senators, known as the Gang of Eight, introduced S. 744, which would create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country, toughen border security, create a guest-worker program and boost high-skilled immigration.
Republicans have argued that the Gang of Eight bill grants amnesty to 11 million immigrants in the country illegally before implementing border security measures, repeating the mistakes made in the last major immigration reform in 1986.
GOP senators have demanded that the bill include border security triggers in order for them to support the legislation.
Those supporting the bill say it appropriates an additional $6.5 billion for border enforcement measures.
The bill also makes permanent legal residence contingent on the Department of Homeland Security having 100 percent situational awareness at every segment of the Southern border and a 90 percent apprehension rate of those illegally crossing. But some Republicans have suggested that the bill gives the department too much say over whether the border is secure, leaving Congress powerless to stop the amnesty program if security measures aren’t met.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted on other amendments, all of which were held to a 60-vote threshold.
Sen. Jeff Merkley’s (D-Ore.) amendment passed by voice vote. It increases requires state workforce agencies to certify that employers are actively recruiting Americans and that Americans are not qualified or available to fill the positions that the employer wants to fill with H-2B visas.
Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) amendment caps border security contractors' salaries at $230,700 a year, and was approved on a 72-26 vote.
Sen. Mark Pryor’s (D-Ark.) amendment passed by voice vote. It establishes a program for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hire veterans.
Finally, an amendment from Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) that would allow Nevada to participate in the Southern Border Security Commissions to make recommendation on how to best secure the border passed on a 89-9 vote.
Earlier Wednesday, the Senate voted 61-37 to table an amendment from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), essentially killing his border security amendment.