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 ReidThe DC bubble is strangling the DNC Dems want Sessions to recuse himself from Trump-Russia probe Ryan says Trump, GOP 'in complete sync' on ObamaCare 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 CorkerHaley ready for UN role despite dearth of foreign policy experience Top Dem: Don’t bring Tillerson floor vote if he doesn’t pass committee Trump’s UN pick threads needle on Russia, NATO MORE (R-Tenn.) and John HoevenJohn HoevenFive regulations that could come in Obama's final days ND senator calls for remaining Dakota Access protesters to leave Senate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules 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 McCainTillerson met with top State official: report McCain ‘very concerned’ about Tillerson US democracy is in crisis. Trump voters must help us get past it. MORE (Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamGraham to vote for Trump’s EPA pick Tillerson met with top State official: report McCain ‘very concerned’ about Tillerson MORE (S.C.), Marco RubioMarco RubioTillerson met with top State official: report McCain ‘very concerned’ about Tillerson Top Dem: Don’t bring Tillerson floor vote if he doesn’t pass committee MORE (Fla.), Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeUnder Trump, the disruptors return to Washington (that's a good thing) 9 GOP senators Trump must watch out for The road ahead for America’s highways MORE (Ariz.) — the four GOP authors of the underlying legislation — and Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.), Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteTen rumored Trump Cabinet picks who didn't get a job Sasse, Perdue join Armed Services Committee Avid pilot among GOP senators joining Transportation committee MORE (N.H.), Jeff Chiesa (N.J.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsGOP rep faces testy crowd at constituent meeting over ObamaCare DeVos vows to be advocate for 'great' public schools GOP senators introducing ObamaCare replacement Monday MORE (Maine), Orrin HatchOrrin HatchOvernight Defense: Senate to vote on defense picks Friday | 41 detainees left at Gitmo | North Korea may be prepping missile launch Congressional leaders unite to protect consumers Mnuchin weathers stormy confirmation hearing MORE (Utah), Dean HellerDean HellerMnuchin weathers stormy confirmation hearing Live coverage: Senators grill Trump's Treasury pick Five things to watch for in Mnuchin hearing MORE (Nev.), Mark KirkMark KirkGOP senator: Don't link Planned Parenthood to ObamaCare repeal Republicans add three to Banking Committee Juan Williams: McConnell won big by blocking Obama MORE (Ill.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiWhat we learned from Rick Perry's confirmation hearing Perry regrets saying he would abolish Energy Department Trump education pick to face Warren, Sanders MORE (Alaska), Roger WickerRoger WickerFive takeaways from Chao’s confirmation hearing Overnight Tech: Tech listens for clues at Sessions hearing | EU weighs expanding privacy rule | Senators blast Backpage execs Ex-Transportation chief: tax writers key to Trump’s infrastructure plan MORE (Miss.) and Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCheney calls for DeVos to be confirmed ‘promptly’ With Trump pick Tom Price, cool heads can prevail on health reform Senate to vote Friday on Trump's defense picks MORE (Tenn.).
Many of the Republicans who voted against the amendment are harshly critical of the overall bill. Sens. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsTrust Women oppose Sen. Sessions nomination Trump says his Cabinet has 'highest IQ of any Cabinet' Support for Israel is a call to conscience MORE (R-Ala.) and Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGOP senator: Trump budget chief could face confirmation 'problems' Jeff Sessions will protect life Justice, FBI to be investigated over Clinton probes 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 SandersCheney calls for DeVos to be confirmed ‘promptly’ Dem senator: Trump nominees 'sad' The DC bubble is strangling the DNC 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 BegichThe future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map Trump campaign left out of Alaska voter guide 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.