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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit 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 Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE (R-Ohio) BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism 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.

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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 FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House Flake's anti-Trump speech will make a lot of noise, but not much sense MORE (Ariz.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Cybersecurity: Bipartisan bill aims to deter election interference | Russian hackers target Senate | House Intel panel subpoenas Bannon | DHS giving 'active defense' cyber tools to private sector Senators unveil bipartisan push to deter future election interference Puerto Rico's children need recovery funds MORE (Fla.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor Overnight Defense: GOP chair blames Dems for defense budget holdup | FDA, Pentagon to speed approval of battlefield drugs | Mattis calls North Korea situation 'sobering' Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House MORE (S.C.). Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (Ariz.) missed the vote. 

The other GOP "yes" votes were McConnell and Sens. John CornynJohn CornynMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Hoyer suggests Dems won't support spending bill without DACA fix MORE (Texas), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteLessons from Alabama: GOP, throw out the old playbook The Hill's 12:30 Report Explaining Democratic victories: It’s gun violence, stupid MORE (N.H.), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerUS trade deficit rises on record imports from China Flake, GOP senators to meet with Trump on trade Senate nixes provision boosting conservative college after uproar MORE (Neb.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanFlake's anti-Trump speech will make a lot of noise, but not much sense Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race Overnight Tech: Regulators to look at trading in bitcoin futures | Computer chip flaws present new security problem | Zuckerberg vows to improve Facebook in 2018 MORE (Ohio), John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneWeek ahead: Tech giants to testify on extremist content Overnight Tech: GOP senator presses Apple over phone slowdowns | YouTube cancels projects with Logan Paul after suicide video | CEOs push for DACA fix | Bill would punish credit agencies for breaches GOP senator presses Apple on phone slowdowns MORE (S.D.), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchKoch groups: Don't renew expired tax breaks in government funding bill Hatch tweets link to 'invisible' glasses after getting spotted removing pair that wasn't there DHS giving ‘active defense’ cyber tools to private sector, secretary says MORE (Utah), Jeff Chiesa (N.J.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerTrump, GOP make peace after tax win — but will it last? Bipartisan senators: Americans need more security info for internet-connected devices Overnight Defense: House GOP going with plan to include full year of defense spending | American held as enemy combatant also a Saudi citizen | Navy adding oxygen monitors to training jets after issues MORE (Miss.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderWeek ahead: Lawmakers near deal on children's health funding Ryan suggests room for bipartisanship on ObamaCare Time to end fiscal year foolishness MORE (Tenn.), John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenGOP anxious with Trump on trade GOP lawmakers to Trump: Don't fire Mueller Government needs to help small businesses follow regulations MORE (N.D.), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Senate Intel chairman: No need for committee to interview Bannon McConnell: Russia probe must stay bipartisan to be credible MORE (N.C.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year Despite amnesty, DACA bill favors American wage-earners MORE (Ky.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Overnight Tech: States sue FCC over net neutrality repeal | Senate Dems reach 50 votes on measure to override repeal | Dems press Apple on phone slowdowns, kids' health | New Android malware found Overnight Regulation: Dems claim 50 votes in Senate to block net neutrality repeal | Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule | Trump wants to loosen rules on bank loans | Pentagon, FDA to speed up military drug approvals MORE (Maine), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranDoug Jones to become only Dem senator with black chief of staff Congress should stand for rural America by enhancing broadband connectivity Immigrant entrepreneurs are vital to American prosperity MORE (Kan.), Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senators eager for Romney to join them Senate GOP wary of ending Russia probes, despite pressure GOP on precipice of major end-of-year tax victory MORE (Mo.), Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsTrump urges House to reauthorize NSA surveillance after ripping it in a tweet Overnight Cybersecurity: Computer chip flaws present new security challenge | DOJ to offer House key documents in Russia probe | Vulnerability found in Google Apps Script Counterterrorism director: Current atmosphere makes job 'more difficult' MORE (Ind.), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Nevada Dems unveil 2018 campaign mascot: 'Mitch McTurtle' Senate campaign fundraising reports roll in MORE (Nev.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators eager for Romney to join them The House needs to help patients from being victimized by antiquated technology Comey’s original Clinton memo released, cites possible violations MORE (Wis.), Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenate campaign fundraising reports roll in Congress should take the lead on reworking a successful Iran deal North Korea tensions ease ahead of Winter Olympics MORE (Tenn.), Mike JohannsMichael (Mike) Owen JohannsFarmers, tax incentives can ease the pain of a smaller farm bill Lobbying World To buy a Swiss company, ChemChina must pass through Washington MORE (Neb.), Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy Isakson'Apprentice' winner Randal Pinkett on Trump: 'No question in my mind he’s a racist' GOP senator: Trump 'owes the people of Haiti and all of mankind an apology' Reforming veterans health care for all generations of veterans MORE (Ga.), Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnRepublicans in Congress shouldn't try to bring back earmarks Republicans should know reviving earmarks is a political nightmare Former GOP senator: Trump has a personality disorder MORE (Okla.), Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissLobbying World Former GOP senator: Let Dems engage on healthcare bill OPINION: Left-wing politics will be the demise of the Democratic Party MORE (Ga.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSessions torched by lawmakers for marijuana move Calif. Republican attacks Sessions over marijuana policy Trump's executive order on minerals will boost national defense MORE (Alaska) and Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP senators eager for Romney to join them Five hurdles to a big DACA and border deal Grand jury indicts Maryland executive in Uranium One deal: report 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 Mason ReidDems search for winning playbook Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response The Memo: Immigration battle tests activists’ muscle 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.