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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 McConnellSenators shed masks after CDC lifts mandate Trump signals he's ready to get back in the game Manchin, Murkowski call for bipartisan Voting Rights Act reauthorization 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 BoehnerBipartisanship has become a partisan weapon The Memo: Lawmakers on edge after Greene's spat with Ocasio-Cortez What's a party caucus chair worth? MORE (R-Ohio) BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBipartisanship has become a partisan weapon The Memo: Lawmakers on edge after Greene's spat with Ocasio-Cortez What's a party caucus chair worth? 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 FlakeThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Republican reactions to Cheney's removal Flake: No greater offense than honesty in today's Republican Party Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP MORE (Ariz.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio wants 'UFO sightings' to be registered, taken seriously Strange bedfellows: UFOs are uniting Trump's fiercest critics, loyalists Second suspected 'Havana Syndrome' case near White House under investigation: report MORE (Fla.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: 'I accept the results of the election' Juan Williams: The GOP's losing bet on Trump Pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood causes headache for GOP in key S.C. race MORE (S.C.). Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainWill the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Republicans have dumped Reagan for Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting MORE (Ariz.) missed the vote. 

The other GOP "yes" votes were McConnell and Sens. John CornynJohn CornynGOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending Police reform talks hit familiar stumbling block CNN asks Carol Baskin to comment on loose Texas tiger MORE (Texas), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteSununu seen as top recruit in GOP bid to reclaim Senate Lobbying world Overnight Defense: NATO expanding troops in Iraq MORE (N.H.), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerMcCarthy and Biden haven't spoken since election Against mounting odds, Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden meets with bipartisan lawmakers for infrastructure negotiations MORE (Neb.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenators shed masks after CDC lifts mandate Bipartisanship has become a partisan weapon Carper urges Biden to nominate ambassadors amid influx at border MORE (Ohio), John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenators shed masks after CDC lifts mandate Lawmakers bicker over how to go after tax cheats GOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending MORE (S.D.), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchFinancial market transactions should not be taxed or restricted Bottom line The Republicans' deep dive into nativism MORE (Utah), Jeff Chiesa (N.J.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerBiden says he and GOP both 'sincere about' seeking infrastructure compromise The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden expresses optimism on bipartisanship; Cheney ousted Hillicon Valley: Global cybersecurity leaders say they feel unprepared for attack | Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan | Senate panel approves bill that would invest billions in tech MORE (Miss.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality MORE (Tenn.), John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenGOP sees immigration as path to regain power The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults now eligible for COVID vaccines The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults can get vaccine; decision Friday on J&J vax MORE (N.D.), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrTrump to speak at North Carolina GOP convention Romney: Capitol riot was 'an insurrection against the Constitution' GOP senator urges Biden to withdraw support for COVID vaccine patent waiver MORE (N.C.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP lawmaker calls for Wuhan probe to 'prevent the next pandemic' All congressional Democrats say they have been vaccinated: CNN Fauci on Rand Paul: 'I just don't understand what the problem is with him' MORE (Ky.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: Supreme Court takes case that could diminish Roe v. Wade | White House to send US-authorized vaccines overseas for first time White House: Biden committed to codifying Roe v. Wade regardless of Miss. case CDC's about-face on masks appears politically motivated to help a struggling Biden MORE (Maine), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranBipartisan Senate bill introduced to give gyms B in relief Bottom line Hawley votes against anti-Asian hate crime bill MORE (Kan.), Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMissouri Republicans move to block Greitens in key Senate race On The Money: Biden, Senate GOP take step toward infrastructure deal as other plans hit speed bumps Senate GOP to give Biden infrastructure counteroffer next week MORE (Mo.), Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsWill the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Experts see 'unprecedented' increase in hackers targeting electric grid Intel heads to resume worldwide threats hearing scrapped under Trump MORE (Ind.), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (Nev.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court sides with oil companies in Baltimore case| White House environmental justice advisers express opposition to nuclear, carbon capture projects | Biden administration to develop performance standards for federal buildings Sunday shows - Cheney removal, CDC guidance reverberate Ron Johnson calls cyber attacks an 'existential' threat following Colonial Pipeline shutdown MORE (Wis.), Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (Tenn.), Mike JohannsMichael (Mike) Owen JohannsMeet the Democratic sleeper candidate gunning for Senate in Nebraska Farmers, tax incentives can ease the pain of a smaller farm bill Lobbying World MORE (Neb.), Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonLoeffler group targets Democrats with billboards around baseball stadium Warnock raises nearly M since January victory Five big takeaways on Georgia's new election law MORE (Ga.), Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnDHS establishes domestic terror unit within its intelligence office Wasteful 'Endless Frontiers Act' won't counter China's rising influence Congress brings back corrupt, costly, and inequitably earmarks MORE (Okla.), Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissEffective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests Live coverage: Georgia Senate runoffs Trump, Biden face new head-to-head contest in Georgia MORE (Ga.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Health Care: Supreme Court takes case that could diminish Roe v. Wade | White House to send US-authorized vaccines overseas for first time Manchin, Murkowski call for bipartisan Voting Rights Act reauthorization White House: Biden committed to codifying Roe v. Wade regardless of Miss. case MORE (Alaska) and Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyConservatives launch 'anti-cancel culture' advocacy organization Lawmakers bicker over how to go after tax cheats On The Money: Biden says workers can't turn down job and get benefits | Treasury launches state and local aid | Businesses jump into vax push 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 ReidStrange bedfellows: UFOs are uniting Trump's fiercest critics, loyalists Bottom line Biden's first 100 days is stylistic 'antithesis' of Trump 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.