By Alexander Bolton - 06/27/13 08:19 PM EDT
The Senate voted 68-32 Thursday to pass comprehensive immigration legislation, advancing President Obama’s top second term priority and setting up a protracted battle with the House.
Senators took the rare step of voting from their desks to mark the occasion while Vice President Biden (D-Del.) presided from the dais. The Senate used the same formal procedure to pass ObamaCare three years ago.
Fourteen Republicans voted to end debate and not a single Democrat opposed it, a significant victory for Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerConvention shows Democrats support fracking, activists on the fringe Dem ad blasts Indiana senate candidate on Social Security The Trail 2016: Unity at last MORE (N.Y.), the lead Democratic sponsor.
He predicted it would become law, despite widespread skepticism among House Republicans.
“Make no mistake about it, the support this bill has generated here in the Senate will be impossible to ignore,” he said shortly before the vote. “I believe the support this bill will receive today in the Senate will propel it to pass the House and be placed for signature on the president’s desk by the end of the year.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyNBA pulls All-Star Game from NC over bathroom law When America denies citizenship to servicemembers Criminal sentencing bill tests McConnell-Grassley relationship MORE (D-Vt.) declared: “Today is another historic day in the Senate.”
Republican Sens. John McCainJohn McCainSyria activists cheer Kaine pick Clinton brings in the heavy hitters Guess which Cuban-American 2016 candidate best set themselves up for 2020? MORE (Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamSyria activists cheer Kaine pick Vulnerable GOP senators praise Kaine Meghan McCain: ‘I no longer recognize my party’ MORE (S.C.), Marco RubioMarco RubioClinton brings in the heavy hitters Guess which Cuban-American 2016 candidate best set themselves up for 2020? Budowsky: Why Warren masters Trump MORE (Fla.), Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeVulnerable GOP senators praise Kaine GOP Sen. Flake offers Trump rare praise Booker denounces ‘lock her up' chants MORE (Ariz.) — the four GOP authors of the legislation — and Sens. Bob CorkerBob CorkerTrump starts considering Cabinet Trump's secret weapon is Ivanka Senate Dems introduce Iran sanctions extension MORE (Tenn.), Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteClinton brings in the heavy hitters Kasich doesn't regret skipping convention Top GOP senator: Trump will have little effect on Senate races MORE (N.H.), Jeffery Chiesa (N.J.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsThe Trail 2016: Words matter Lobbyists bolting Trump convention early GOP sen at convention: I'm not ruling out voting for Clinton MORE (Maine), Orrin HatchOrrin HatchFroman: Too early to start trade talks with the UK Bacteria found ahead of Olympics underscores need for congressional action for new antibiotics Burr pledges to retire after one more Senate term MORE (Utah), Dean HellerDean HellerSenators offer bill removing hurdles to offering stock options Six senators call on housing regulator to let Congress finish housing finance reform Majority of GOP senators to attend Trump convention MORE (Nev.), Mark KirkMark KirkNBA pulls All-Star Game from NC over bathroom law GOP groups scale back support for Sen. Johnson Top GOP senator: Trump will have little effect on Senate races MORE (Ill.), John HoevenJohn HoevenMajority of GOP senators to attend Trump convention Death threats against senators remained on Twitter for 2 weeks Senate panel approves funding boost for TSA MORE (N.D.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiBig Oil makes a push for risky and reckless Arctic drilling GOP divided over 0M for climate fund Overnight Energy: House passes first Interior, EPA spending bill in seven years MORE (Alaska) and Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderGOP senators to donors: Stick with us regardless of Trump Overnight Healthcare: Mysterious new Zika case | Mental health bill in doubt | Teletraining to fight opioids Hopes dim for mental health deal MORE (Tenn.) voted for the 1,200-page bill.
Rubio, who is widely considered a possible front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, split with the chamber’s two other likely presidential candidates, Tea Party-favorite Sens. Rand PaulRand PaulWhat to watch for on Day 2 at the GOP convention Cyber squatters sitting on valuable VP web addresses Majority of GOP senators to attend Trump convention MORE (R-Ky.) and Ted CruzTed CruzDems flirt with disaster on convention’s first day Team Clinton: Sanders will help campaign take on 'rigged system' Clinton brings in the heavy hitters MORE (R-Texas), who voted no.
Thirty-two Republicans voted against the measure, including every single member of the leadership.
Republican strategists said a handful of vulnerable Democratic incumbents, Sens. Mark PryorMark PryorCotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood MORE (Ark.), Mary LandrieuMary Landrieu oil is changing the world and Washington Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Republican announces bid for Vitter’s seat MORE (La.) and Kay HaganKay HaganDemocratic National Convention event calendar 10 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2016 Senate Republicans are feeling the 'Trump effect' MORE (N.C.), will have to defend their votes on the campaign trail next year.
The legislation still has a tough road if it is to become law. Many House Republicans oppose granting legal status to millions of immigrants who came to the country illegally.
Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerConservative allies on opposite sides in GOP primary fight Clinton maps out first 100 days The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ohio) said Thursday that any immigration legislation, including a conference report with the Senate, must win the support of a majority of his conference to move forward.
“For any legislation, including a conference report, to pass the House, it’s going to have to be a bill that has the support of a majority of our members,” BoehnerJohn BoehnerConservative allies on opposite sides in GOP primary fight Clinton maps out first 100 days The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE said at his weekly Capitol press conference. He reiterated that the House would not simply take up and vote on the Senate bill.
Proponents say the legislation is a long-needed fix of the nation’s “broken” immigration system and argue that failure to act ensures a “de facto amnesty” for millions of people already living and working in the country illegally.
Schumer said he was happy with the outcome despite being short of his 70-vote goal.
"We wanted to get a significant number of Republicans to vote for the bill,” he said on MSNBC Thursday morning. “And what does that mean? It means that when the bill goes to the House, there's going to be pressure on them to do something. So we're feeling pretty good about how we did."
The sweeping bill would put an estimated 8 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship and spend $46 billion to tighten the nation’s borders.
It would also increase the number of visas for high-skilled and agricultural workers and give more weight to educational and employment factors in granting visas.
The bill’s sponsors expanded the pool of Republican support earlier this week by amending the legislation to authorize 20,000 additional border patrol agents and the construction of 700 miles of fencing along the southern border. The amendment also ensured that immigrants could not claim Social Security benefits for the time they worked in the country illegally.
That fell short of the demands of a majority of Republicans who called for a guarantee of 100 percent situational awareness, or full monitoring, and a 90-percent apprehension rate of illegal entrants be achieved along the southern border before granting permanent legal status to millions of immigrants.
“That’s where negotiations really around this bill hung up,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who authored the “border surge” amendment and voted to advance the bill to final passage.
The legislation received another boost last week when the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would reduce the deficit by $197 billion over the next decade and by $700 billion between 2024 and 2033.
But many Republicans said they were concerned by the report’s projection that if the legislation becomes law, as many as seven million illegal immigrants will still be living in the country 10 years from now.
Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsOur children, our future – bridging the partisan divide Trump starts considering Cabinet Trump tweets: 'Such a great honor' to be GOP nominee MORE (R-Ala.) on Thursday acknowledged the system needs to be reformed but said the pending legislation falls short.
“It is not a bill that reflects a commitment to a lawful system of immigration in the future,” he said on the Senate floor. “We will admit dramatically more people than we ever have in our country’s history at a time when unemployment is high and the Congressional Budget Office have told us that wages, average wages will go down for 12 years, that gross domestic product per capita will decline for 25-plus years.”
Some Republicans complained that Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems put immigration front-and-center on convention's first day Dem ad blasts Indiana senate candidate on Social Security Super-PAC targets Portman on trade MORE (D-Nev.) shut down the amendment process. The Senate voted on only 10 of the more than 500 amendments filed to the bill.
Reid said there were not additional votes because the bill’s opponents objected to various proposals to consider amendments.
Reid’s office has noted that the Senate Judiciary Committee considered 212 amendments and adopted more than 40 Republican-sponsored amendments during its markup in May.
Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyTop Dem Senate hopefuls to skip convention Election to shape Supreme Court Why one senator sees Gingrich as Trump's best VP choice MORE (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, and another prominent critic of the bill, said he hopes negotiations with the House will address his concerns.
“My hope is that we will send a bill to the president that will make American stronger, make our borders more secure and make our immigration system more effective,” he said before the vote. “That’s what Americans deserve and what we have a responsibility to deliver."
— Russell Berman and Ramsey Cox contributed.