By Erik Wasson - 06/11/13 07:28 PM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidOvernight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans Senate passes Puerto Rico debt relief bill Senate gets deal to speed up Puerto Rico bill MORE (D-Nev.) on Tuesday warned that a Republican amendment to strengthen border security would be a “poison pill” that could kill the overall immigration reform bill.
The Senate Tuesday voted to advance debate on immigration reform, bringing the contentious issue to the upper chamber floor for the first time in years.
An amendment sponsored by Sen. John CornynJohn CornynOvernight Finance: Trump threatens NAFTA withdrawal | Senate poised for crucial Puerto Rico vote | Ryan calls for UK trade deal | Senate Dems block Zika funding deal Senate faces critical vote on Puerto Rico McConnell tees up House Puerto Rico bill MORE (R-Texas) is seen as crucial to winning their support. The measure would require the government to meet border enforcement goals before granting full legal status for the nation’s estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.
Under the amendment, an immigrant already in the country would not be able to obtain legal permanent residency until the government had 100 percent awareness of border activity and was able to intercept at least 98 percent of illegal crossings.
The measure also calls for implementation of a biometric system for tracking all visa holders and establishing an E-Verify employee check system as preconditions.
Reid on Tuesday called those conditions unacceptable.
“He has set out the principles of what’s in that amendment, and his principles would be a poison pill to this bill,” Reid said.
Cornyn said that he has been talking to the Senate Gang of Eight members and is trying to gain the support of Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio: Turkey attack 'directed' by ISIS Trump: Rivals who don't back me shouldn't be allowed to run for office GOP mega-donor: Trump would cause 'global depression' MORE (R-Fla.). Rubio, a Tea Party favorite, is seen as key to winning the backing of conservatives.
“I’ve talked fairly regularly with Sen. [Charles] Schumer [(D-N.Y.)] and conversations continue,” Cornyn added, referring to another member of the bipartisan immigration group.
“I think if they had 60 votes to pass the bill out of the Senate they probably wouldn’t be talking to me,” he added. “Which tells me they view this as a way to get it out of the Senate on a bipartisan basis that would give it some momentum and increase the likelihood of the bill passing in the House as well.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans Senate passes Puerto Rico debt relief bill Senate Appropriations speeds through spending bills MORE (R-Ky.) called Cornyn’s measure “the key amendment” in the immigration reform debate.
“It will put us in a position where we can look the American people in the face and say we are going to secure the border,” he said. “It will be a very, very important amendment.”
McConnell said that Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchTreasury officials to meet with lawmakers on inversion rules A bipartisan bright spot we can’t afford to pass up: child welfare reform Medicare trust fund running out of money fast MORE (R-Utah) will also offer an amendment to deny undocumented immigrants without permanent residency the ability to receive any means-tested government benefits.
“There are certainly conditions under which I can support an immigration bill and we’ll find out in the course of the next three weeks whether this becomes a bill that I and others will be comfortable supporting,” McConnell said.