In 84-15 vote, Senate moves forward on immigration reform

Comprehensive immigration reform legislation passed a significant hurdle Tuesday when the Senate voted overwhelmingly to begin consideration of the lightning-rod bill.

Thirty Republicans, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump faces enormous test with healthcare bill More than 300 abuse victim support groups oppose GOP healthcare bill Dem lawmaker: GOP healthcare battle is like the Titantic MORE (Ky.), voted to take up the measure in the 84-15 vote, revealing a deep well of potential support.

The vote tally was a promising sign of bipartisanship and the legislation appeared to have strong momentum after Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerChaffetz calls for ,500 legislator housing stipend GOP super-PAC promises big spending in 2018 Ryan reminds lawmakers to be on time for votes MORE (R-Ohio) BoehnerJohn BoehnerChaffetz calls for ,500 legislator housing stipend GOP super-PAC promises big spending in 2018 Ryan reminds lawmakers to be on time for votes MORE-predicts-immigration-bill-by-end-of-the-year" href="http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/304661-boehner-predicts-immigration-bill-by-end-of-the-year">predicted Tuesday that immigration reform would become law by year’s end.

ADVERTISEMENT
The bill will first have to emerge from the Senate, however, where many of the Republican "yes" votes on Tuesday warned they would not support the measure in a final vote unless its border security language was strengthened. 

It also remains unclear whether an immigration reform bill will emerge from the House, where there is strong opposition among conservatives to the Senate bill. 

Still, Boehner's comments highlight the pressure on the House — and on Republicans — to not be seen as obstacles to a bill despite opposition from grassroots conservatives. 

The GOP senators who voted "yes" on Tuesday included three of the four Republicans who helped draft the measure: Sens. Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeOPINION: ObamaCare by another name is still ObamaCare Senate should seek to retain its 'blue slip' tradition for judicial nominees Progressives target Heller and Flake on Senate GOP bill MORE (Ariz.), Marco RubioMarco RubioSenators urge Trump to do right thing with arms sales to Taiwan Why liberals should support Trump — not Obama — on Cuba policy The Memo: Trump seeks to put his stamp on nation MORE (Fla.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamOvernight Cybersecurity: New ransomware attack spreads globally | US pharma giant hit | House intel panel interviews Podesta | US, Kenya deepen cyber partnership Graham gets frustrated in public ‘unmasking’ debate GOP senator: Don't expect Trump to 'have your back' on healthcare vote MORE (S.C.). Sen. John McCainJohn McCainGOP governors could help bring down Senate health bill Lawmakers wary of Trump escalation in Syria Senators urge Trump to do right thing with arms sales to Taiwan MORE (Ariz.) missed the vote. 

The other GOP "yes" votes were McConnell and Sens. John CornynJohn CornynSenators urge Trump to do right thing with arms sales to Taiwan Cornyn: Key vote to advance health bill likely Wednesday GOP ObamaCare fight faces do-or-die procedural vote MORE (Texas), Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteOPINION: Democracy will send ISIS to the same grave as communism Kelly Ayotte joins defense contractor's board of directors Week ahead: Comey firing dominates Washington MORE (N.H.), Deb FischerDeb FischerIvanka Trump turns to House GOP on paid family leave GOP senators pleased with Ivanka Trump meeting on family leave, child tax credits McCain threatens to block Trump's deputy Defense nominee MORE (Neb.), Rob PortmanRob PortmanGOP governors could help bring down Senate health bill Overnight Healthcare: Senate delays ObamaCare vote past recess | Trump says GOP 'very close' to deal | Three more senators come out against bill Three more GOP senators announce opposition to healthcare bill MORE (Ohio), John ThuneJohn ThuneBehind closed doors, tensions in the GOP Pro-Trump group pulls ads targeting GOP senator on ObamaCare repeal GOP chairman wants 'robust' tax reform process in the Senate MORE (S.D.), Orrin HatchOrrin HatchRift opens in GOP over budget strategy Overnight Finance: GOP divided over welfare cuts in budget | Lawmaker loses M on pharma stock he pitched | Yellen says another financial crisis unlikely in our lifetimes GOP chairman wants 'robust' tax reform process in the Senate MORE (Utah), Jeff Chiesa (N.J.), Roger WickerRoger WickerOvernight Defense: GOP chairman moves ahead with 0B defense bill | Lawmakers eye 355 ship navy | Senate panel seeks answers on shoot down of Syrian jet The Hill's Whip List: GOP undecided, 'no' votes pile up on ObamaCare repeal bill Lawmakers unveil bill to set 355-ship Navy MORE (Miss.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Hill's Whip List: GOP undecided, 'no' votes pile up on ObamaCare repeal bill Trump administration pays June ObamaCare subsidies to insurers Republicans and the lost promise of local control in education MORE (Tenn.), John HoevenJohn HoevenThe Hill's Whip List: GOP undecided, 'no' votes pile up on ObamaCare repeal bill GOP considers keeping ObamaCare taxes Senators want governors involved in health talks MORE (N.D.), Richard BurrRichard BurrAn unlikely home in DC Senate intel panel to hold hearing on Russian meddling in Europe The Hill's Whip List: GOP undecided, 'no' votes pile up on ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (N.C.), Rand PaulRand PaulTrump faces enormous test with healthcare bill Three more GOP senators announce opposition to healthcare bill Rand Paul: Trump 'open to making bill better' MORE (Ky.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsTrump faces enormous test with healthcare bill Overnight Finance: GOP divided over welfare cuts in budget | Lawmaker loses M on pharma stock he pitched | Yellen says another financial crisis unlikely in our lifetimes Overnight Tech: EU hits Google with record fine | Amazon gears up for lobbying battle | Facebook hits 2 billion users | New ransomware spreads across globe MORE (Maine), Jerry MoranJerry MoranOvernight Healthcare: Senate delays ObamaCare vote past recess | Trump says GOP 'very close' to deal | Three more senators come out against bill Three more GOP senators announce opposition to healthcare bill Senate GOP delays ObamaCare repeal vote past recess MORE (Kan.), Roy BluntRoy BluntOvernight Regulation: Senate Banking panel huddles with regulators on bank relief | FCC proposes 2M fine on robocaller | Yellowstone grizzly loses endangered protection Overnight Finance: Big US banks pass Fed stress tests | Senate bill repeals most ObamaCare taxes | Senate expected to pass Russian sanctions bill for second time GOP senator: 'No reason' to try to work with Dems on healthcare MORE (Mo.), Dan CoatsDan CoatsThe Memo: GOP pushes Trump to curb Mueller attacks Merkley: Trump 'absolutely' tried to intimidate Comey Coats: Trump seemed obsessed with Russia probe MORE (Ind.), Dean HellerDean HellerGOP governors could help bring down Senate health bill Trump faces enormous test with healthcare bill Behind closed doors, tensions in the GOP MORE (Nev.), Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonTrump faces enormous test with healthcare bill Behind closed doors, tensions in the GOP Three more GOP senators announce opposition to healthcare bill MORE (Wis.), Bob CorkerBob CorkerLawmakers wary of Trump escalation in Syria Saudis say Qatar demands are non-negotiable Overnight Finance: GOP divided over welfare cuts in budget | Lawmaker loses M on pharma stock he pitched | Yellen says another financial crisis unlikely in our lifetimes MORE (Tenn.), Mike JohannsMike JohannsLobbying World To buy a Swiss company, ChemChina must pass through Washington Republican senator vows to block nominees over ObamaCare co-ops MORE (Neb.), Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonThe Hill's Whip List: GOP undecided, 'no' votes pile up on ObamaCare repeal bill Georgia special election runoff: live coverage House approves VA bill, sending it to Trump MORE (Ga.), Tom CoburnTom Coburn'Path of least resistance' problematic for Congress Freedom Caucus saved Paul Ryan's job: GOP has promises to keep Don't be fooled: Carper and Norton don't fight for DC MORE (Okla.), Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissFormer GOP senator: Let Dems engage on healthcare bill OPINION: Left-wing politics will be the demise of the Democratic Party GOP hopefuls crowd Georgia special race MORE (Ga.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiTrump: Senate GOP 'very close' to agreement on health bill EPA head faces skeptical senators on budget cuts Cruz, McConnell huddle with healthcare vote looming MORE (Alaska) and Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyOvernight Cybersecurity: New ransomware attack spreads globally | US pharma giant hit | House intel panel interviews Podesta | US, Kenya deepen cyber partnership GOP chairman wants 'robust' tax reform process in the Senate Senate Dems plan floor protest ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote MORE (Iowa). 

Even before the vote, leaders were jockeying for leverage on amendments to rework the fragile, 1,000-page compromise hammered out by the Senate’s Gang of Eight. 

“The bill has serious flaws,” McConnell said before the vote. “I’ll vote to debate it and for the opportunity to amend it, but in the days ahead there will need to be major changes to this bill if it’s going to become law.”

McConnell called for changes to strengthen the border security language and restrict federal benefits and tax breaks for immigrants receiving provisional legal status.

Boehner called for similar changes in an interview aired Tuesday.

“I've got real concerns about the Senate bill, especially in the area of border security and internal enforcement of the system. I'm concerned that it doesn't go far enough,” Boehner told ABC.

Many Republicans are pushing for an amendment sponsored by Cornyn that would require 100 percent monitoring capability and a 90 percent apprehension rate of illegal entrants along the Southern border before granting permanent legal status to millions of immigrants in the country illegally. Cornyn’s plan would also require tracking visa exits with biometric data at certain air and sea ports.

McConnell praised it as “the key amendment” and said it would “put us in a position where we can look the American people in the face and say we are going to secure the border.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems face identity crisis Heller under siege, even before healthcare Charles Koch thanks Harry Reid for helping his book sales MORE (D-Nev.) warned its adoption could sink the entire bill.

“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.

Other members of the Gang of Eight, which drafted the legislation, disagree with Reid.

“There’s been some talk about some kind of poison pill. That’s not the case. Cornyn’s trying to get language that he can support so we’re working with him,” said Flake.

Reid has claimed it will be fairly easy to round up 60 votes for Senate passage because Democrats expect only one or two defections and four Republicans on the Gang of Eight have already pledged their support.

Ayotte, for example, declared her endorsement before the procedural vote.

“Our immigration system is completely broken,” Ayotte said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “This is a thoughtful, bipartisan solution to a tough problem. So that’s why I’m going to support it.”

But Cornyn says his amendment will need to be adopted to push the bill over the hump.

“I’ve talked fairly regularly with Sen. [Charles] Schumer [(D-N.Y.)] and conversations continue,” he said, referring to another Gang of Eight member.

“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.”

President Obama, for his part, warned opponents not to use “procedural games” to stop it in remarks on the bill Tuesday. 

He said there was "no reason Congress can't get this done by the end of summer." 

Rubio, a pivotal member of the Gang of Eight who is in charge of selling the bill to conservatives, has also called for changes to bolster the enforcement provisions.

Rubio said he would introduce his proposal “soon.” It would include a specific border security plan in the legislation and leave less to the discretion of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

“The one that I’ve been focused on the most is that people just want to make sure whatever the border security plan is an effective one, and they’re worried the Department of Homeland Security will not craft a border security plan that does that,” he said.

On Tuesday, Rubio introduced an amendment to strengthen the requirement that immigrants demonstrate English proficiency before receiving permanent legal status.

Rubio’s amendment would strike language in the pending bill allowing the English proficiency requirement to be met simply by signing up for a language course.

Critics of the legislation have panned it for not doing enough to require millions of illegal immigrants to learn English as a condition for obtaining permanent legal residency.

ProEnglish, a group advocating for strong language requirements for immigrants, argued the authors of the bill have overstated its English standards.

—Erik Wasson contributed to this report.

This story was last updated at 5:03 p.m.