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 SchumerLive coverage: Trump budget chief faces two Senate panels McConnell to Dems: Work with us on GOP's 'formidable' challenges Democrats and the boycott of Trump's inauguration 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 LeahySessions: No plan to recuse from DOJ Trump probes VA leaving navy veterans adrift in sea of Agent Orange Senate confirms first nominees of Trump era MORE (D-Vt.) declared: “Today is another historic day in the Senate.”
Republican Sens. John McCainJohn McCainWebb: What matters now is policy McCain questions Trump budget pick's support for military Why the era of US global leadership is over MORE (Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamWebb: What matters now is policy WH: Trump believes millions voted illegally Ryan: ‘No evidence’ of mass voter fraud as Trump claimed MORE (S.C.), Marco RubioMarco RubioWebb: What matters now is policy McMahon dodges smackdown from Small Business Committee Why the era of US global leadership is over MORE (Fla.), Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeThis week: Congressional Republicans prepare to huddle with Trump GOP eyes new push to break up California court Live coverage of Trump's inauguration MORE (Ariz.) — the four GOP authors of the legislation — and Sens. Bob CorkerBob CorkerSenate panel votes to confirm Tillerson Rubio to vote for Tillerson Top Dem comes out against Tillerson ahead of key vote MORE (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.), Jeffery Chiesa (N.J.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsOvernight Healthcare: Trump reinstates ban on US funds for overseas abortions GOP senators: Give states the option of keeping ObamaCare GOP senators to introduce ObamaCare replacement plan MORE (Maine), Orrin HatchOrrin HatchOvernight Healthcare: Wounded Price heads toward confirmation | 'Death spiral' debate heats up | House panel to look at ObamaCare replacement bills Wounded Price heads toward confirmation Live coverage: Trump's health pick has second hearing MORE (Utah), Dean HellerDean HellerWounded Price heads toward confirmation Critics eye repeal of ObamaCare prescription drug tax Senate panel approves slew of tech bills 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 HoevenJohn HoevenCabinet picks boost 2018 Dems Five regulations that could come in Obama's final days ND senator calls for remaining Dakota Access protesters to leave MORE (N.D.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiCommittee to vote on Zinke, Perry nominations Tuesday Trump, GOP set to battle on spending cuts What we learned from Rick Perry's confirmation hearing MORE (Alaska) and Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderGillibrand to oppose DeVos for Education secretary Sanders set for clash with Trump’s budget pick HELP Committee won't hold second hearing for DeVos 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 PaulTrump's CIA chief clears Senate Overnight Defense: Trump nominates Air Force secretary | Senate clears CIA director | Details on first drone strike under Trump Dems blast Trump plans for deep spending cuts MORE (R-Ky.) and Ted CruzTed CruzCruz introduces bill letting states bar refugees Trump's America: Businessmen in, bureaucrats out When Trump says 'Make America Great Again,' he means it 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 LandrieuFive unanswered questions after Trump's upset victory Pavlich: O’Keefe a true journalist Trump’s implosion could cost GOP in Louisiana Senate race MORE (La.) and Kay HaganKay Hagan Former Sen. Kay Hagan in ICU after being rushed to hospital GOP senator floats retiring over gridlock 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map 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 BoehnerLobbyists expect boom times under Trump Last Congress far from ‘do-nothing’ Top aide: Obama worried about impeachment for Syria actions 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 BoehnerLobbyists expect boom times under Trump Last Congress far from ‘do-nothing’ Top aide: Obama worried about impeachment for Syria actions 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 SessionsLawsuit filed to get information on Sessions Overnight Cybersecurity: Comey reportedly staying on at FBI | Court blocks DOJ appeal in Microsoft email case The Hill's 12:30 Report 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 ReidCabinet picks boost 2018 Dems Franken emerges as liberal force in hearings GOP eyes new push to break up California court 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 GrassleyTrump huddles with Senate leaders ahead of Supreme Court battle Trump to announce Supreme Court pick next week Trump, Senate leaders to huddle on Supreme Court 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.