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 McConnellOvernight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties 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 BoehnerFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock From learning on his feet to policy director MORE (R-Ohio) BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock From learning on his feet to policy director 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 FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (Ariz.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTikTok's leader to meet with lawmakers next week GOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements Three dead, several injured in Pensacola naval station shooting MORE (Fla.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties GOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Hannity slams Stern for Clinton interview: 'Not the guy I grew up listening to' MORE (S.C.). Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLessons of the Kamala Harris campaign Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases Top Armed Services Democrat scolds military leaders on Trump's intervention in war crimes cases MORE (Ariz.) missed the vote. 

The other GOP "yes" votes were McConnell and Sens. John CornynJohn CornynHillicon Valley: FTC rules Cambridge Analytica engaged in 'deceptive practices' | NATO researchers warn social media failing to remove fake accounts | Sanders calls for breaking up Comcast, Verizon Bipartisan senators call on FERC to protect against Huawei threats Giffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick MORE (Texas), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (N.H.), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerSenate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid Female lawmakers make bipartisan push for more women in politics at All In Together gala MORE (Neb.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanLawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities Senators sound alarm on dangers of ransomware attacks after briefing Senate roundtable showcases importance and needs of women entrepreneurs MORE (Ohio), John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneCongress races to beat deadline on shutdown Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware Senators inch forward on federal privacy bill MORE (S.D.), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchKey Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Trump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals MORE (Utah), Jeff Chiesa (N.J.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerThere's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down Trade deal talks expand as Congress debates tech legal shield Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware MORE (Miss.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills Key negotiator says deal close on surprise medical bills legislation Senate passes bipartisan bill to permanently fund historically black colleges MORE (Tenn.), John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenBottom Line The Hill's Morning Report — Schiff: Clear evidence of a quid pro quo Trump steps up GOP charm offensive as impeachment looms MORE (N.D.), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties North Carolina congressman says he 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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 ReidThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Doctors are dying by suicide every day and we are not talking about it Impeachment trial throws curveball into 2020 race 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.