Immigration reform bill clears significant hurdle in the Senate

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 McConnellTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Schumer briefs Democrats on impeachment trial 'mechanics' Trump legal team gears up for Senate impeachment trial in meeting with GOP senators MORE (Ky.), voted to take up the measure in the 84-15 vote, revealing a deep well of potential support. 

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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) predicted Tuesday that immigration reform would become law by year’s end. 

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 pass the House, where there is strong opposition among conservatives to the Senate bill. 

Still, 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’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 RubioRubio on Chris Pratt water bottle story: 'I too was caught with a single use plastic water bottle' House votes to sanction Chinese officials over treatment of Uighurs Poll: 51 percent of Florida voters disapprove of Trump MORE (Fla.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans GOP member urges Graham to subpoena Schiff, Biden phone records Trump legal team gears up for Senate impeachment trial in meeting with GOP senators 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 CornynPush to investigate Bidens sets up potential for Senate turf war Pressure grows on House GOP leaders to hold line ahead of impeachment trial GOP senators warn Trump trade deal will go into 2020 if deal not reached this week 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 PortmanSenators sound alarm on dangers of ransomware attacks after briefing Senate roundtable showcases importance and needs of women entrepreneurs Impeachment will make some Senate Republicans squirm MORE (Ohio), John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneHillicon 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 House passes anti-robocall 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 WickerHillicon 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 Hillicon Valley: Dueling bills set stage for privacy debate | Google co-founders step down from parent company | Advocates rally for self-driving car bill | Elon Musk defamation trial begins | Lawsuit accuses TikTok of sharing data with China MORE (Miss.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderRick Perry says Trump is the 'chosen one' sent 'to do great things' Impeachment will make some Senate Republicans squirm Crunch time for Congress on surprise medical bills 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 BurrNC rep explores Tillis primary challenge Trump legal team gears up for Senate impeachment trial in meeting with GOP senators Senate Intel found no evidence of 2016 Ukrainian interference: report MORE (N.C.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Democratic congressman calls for study of effects of sex-trafficking law McConnell says he's 'honored' to be WholeFoods Magazine's 2019 'Person of the Year' MORE (Ky.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate confirms Trump pick labeled 'not qualified' by American Bar Association Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members Collins opposes Trump's district court pick MORE (Maine), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSenators inch forward on federal privacy bill Hillicon Valley: Dueling bills set stage for privacy debate | Google co-founders step down from parent company | Advocates rally for self-driving car bill | Elon Musk defamation trial begins | Lawsuit accuses TikTok of sharing data with China Advocates hopeful dueling privacy bills can bridge partisan divide MORE (Kan.), Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Overnight Defense: Trump cancels presser, cuts short NATO trip | Viral video catches leaders appearing to gossip about Trump | Dem witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses | Trump reportedly mulling more troops in Middle East Trump legal team gears up for Senate impeachment trial in meeting with GOP senators MORE (Mo.), Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFormer US intel official says Trump would often push back in briefings Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter MORE (Ind.), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (Nev.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenators sound alarm on dangers of ransomware attacks after briefing Push to investigate Bidens sets up potential for Senate turf war 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 MORE (Wis.), Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerRNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing 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 plans to spend million on Georgia Senate campaign Georgia governor bucks Trump with Senate seat appointment Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing MORE (Ga.), Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE (Okla.), Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissThe Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Republicans say Democrats holding up disaster relief as 'Sandy payback' MORE (Ga.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Dem impeachment report highlights phone records Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members Pressure grows on House GOP leaders to hold line ahead of impeachment trial MORE (Alaska) and Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTrump escalates fight over tax on tech giants Falling impeachment support raises pressure for Democrats on trade Push to investigate Bidens sets up potential for Senate turf war 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 ReidDoctors are dying by suicide every day and we are not talking about it Impeachment trial throws curveball into 2020 race Harry Reid: Early voting states Iowa, New Hampshire 'not representative of the country anymore' 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.