The Senate moved closer to passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation on Wednesday by approving a “border security surge” in a 69-29 vote.
Fifteen Republicans voted for the major amendment, putting the Gang of Eight close to their target of winning 70 votes for final passage. The Senate also defeated a GOP budget point of order that sought to stop the immigration measure.
“This is really America at its best. Each one of those eight senators don’t know, just as I don’t know, whether this work will help them or hurt them in their political careers,” Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDemocrats race to link GOP incumbents to Trump Mellman: Give positive a chance Koch network super-PAC launches ad buys in Wisconsin, Nevada MORE (D-Nev.) said ahead of the vote. “But we have a broken immigration system, and they have come up with a solution to fix it.”
Crafted by Sens. Bob CorkerBob CorkerHousing groups argue Freddie Mac's loss should spur finance reform Iran and heavy water: Five things to know Trump seeks approval from foreign policy experts, but hits snags MORE (R-Tenn.) and John HoevenJohn HoevenSenators approve shift in funding to ease airport wait times This week: Congress on track to miss Puerto Rico deadline Week ahead: Senate looks to wrap up energy, water spending bill MORE (R-N.D.), the border security plan authorizes increasing the number of border patrol agents by 20,000 and constructing 700 miles of fencing. Those border security measures would have to be met within 10 years in order for immigrants to apply for green cards.
“Nobody in this body can say that in this amendment we’re voting on today, that we don’t do anything related to border security in this bill,” Corker said.
The Republicans who voted “yes” were Sens. John McCainJohn McCainDole alone in not shunning GOP convention Trump plans visit to Capitol Hill McCain caught on tape: Trump hurts my chances for reelection MORE (Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamNever Trump voices face tough decision Trump: GOP critics can come back after my 'two terms' Graham: GOP has 'lost its way' on Trump MORE (S.C.), Marco RubioMarco RubioThe Hill's 12:30 Report Ex-Rubio aide 'torn' about voting for Trump Former Rubio delegates push senator as Trump's VP MORE (Fla.), Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeMany Republicans uninterested in being Trump’s VP: report Senate confirms Obama's long-stalled ambassador to Mexico McCain fundraiser faces felony drug charges in Arizona MORE (Ariz.) — the four GOP authors of the underlying legislation — and Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.), Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteTrump plans visit to Capitol Hill Ayotte alarmed by sped-up Gitmo reviews The Trail 2016: And then there was one MORE (N.H.), Jeff Chiesa (N.J.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsThe Trail 2016: And then there was one Maine Republican senator suggests she could back Trump Larry Wilmore, Sting party in DC ahead of WHCD MORE (Maine), Orrin HatchOrrin HatchInversion rule: latest example of government overreach Supreme Court wrestles with corruption law IRS: Annual unpaid tax liability was 8B MORE (Utah), Dean HellerDean HellerCarter pledges probe of sex assault testimony Democrats block energy spending bill over Iran amendment Senate votes to increase wind energy funding MORE (Nev.), Mark KirkMark KirkDemocrats race to link GOP incumbents to Trump Trump ticket looms over vulnerable GOP senators Elizabeth Warren stumps, raises funds for Duckworth MORE (Ill.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiActivists target Google employees over GOP convention plans The Hill's 12:30 Report Bishop eyes new Puerto Rico bill after recess MORE (Alaska), Roger WickerRoger WickerOvernight Healthcare: Senate making headway on Zika funding DNC head: Republicans ‘dropping like flies’ from convention Campaign chief to vulnerables: Stay away from GOP convention MORE (Miss.) and Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderDemocrats block energy spending bill over Iran amendment Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico pressure builds; Big tariff vote Wednesday Senate votes to increase wind energy funding MORE (Tenn.).
Many of the Republicans who voted against the amendment are harshly critical of the overall bill. Sens. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsMaine Republican senator suggests she could back Trump Trump snags third House committee chair endorsement Trump seeks approval from foreign policy experts, but hits snags MORE (R-Ala.) and Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley: Trump would pick 'right type' of Supreme Court justice Advocacy group seeks probe into DOD statements on sexual assault Social Security moves to block the mentally ill from purchasing guns MORE (R-Iowa) say it repeats to mistakes of the last major immigration reform in 1986 by making border enforcement “promises” and offering “legalization first.”
“It continues false promises of a secured border,” Grassley said Wednesday. “It ought to be enforcement now and legalization later.”
To lure more GOP votes, language from other senators was included in the security amendment. One of the changes to the bill restricts certain nonimmigrant visa holders, such as tourists and foreign students, from accessing Medicaid programs and Affordable Care Act benefits.
Democrats won changes as well. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's 12:30 Report America needs four parties Woman who led Trump Tower construction supports Clinton MORE (I-Vt.) secured language to provide $1.5 billion in grants to state workforce investment boards to help young people find jobs over the next two years.
The amendment also includes a provision from Alaska Sens. Mark BegichMark BegichEx-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium Dem ex-lawmakers defend Schumer on Iran MORE (D) and Lisa Murkowski (R) that allows summer workers on J-1 visas to work in fish processing plants in their state. Critics have dubbed it the “Crabhusker kickback.”
The Senate also voted 67-31 Wednesday to end debate on the Senate Judiciary Committee reported substitute amendment to S. 744, setting up a final vote on the measure as early as Thursday.
Managers of the immigration bill are working on a deal to allow a few more amendment votes, setting up a final cloture vote that will happen Thursday on the modified bill. If a deal isn’t reached, final passage will happen Friday instead of Thursday.
Later Wednesday evening, Reid tried to set up votes on 32 amendments — 16 of which were from Republicans — but Grassley objected saying the amendment process had not been as "fair and open" as promised.
"The majority party has offered an agreement that in our view is insufficient," Grassley said. "I feel a bit used and abused in this process for 2.5 weeks we’ve been pushing to get votes on our amendments. We’ve had a measly 10 votes on amendments.
"I’m still willing to negotiate votes, but it will need to be a lot of votes. … In the end we may very well not be having anymore amendment."
The majority leader also said he hopes the House “will follow the Senate’s lead and work to pass bipartisan reform.”
But Grassley said the House would have to rectify the Senate’s “miserable failure.”
“The House of Representatives is going to be the deliberative body on immigration reform and it’s going to put the Senate to shame,” Grassley said.
— This story was updated at 5:18 p.m.