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Partisan lines harden in Senate over immigration reform bill

Partisan lines are hardening over the Senate’s immigration reform bill, downgrading hopes a 70-plus majority of senators will back it in an up-or-down vote next week.

The bill seems likely to pass the Senate, particularly after a Congressional Budget Office score on Tuesday found it would reduce deficits by $700 billion over the next two decades.

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Yet hopes the bill could win 70 or 80 votes are fading along with the chances that a key amendment sponsored by Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThere will be no new immigration law under Biden, unless he changes course Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Cornyn is most prolific tweeter in Congress so far in 2021 MORE (R-Texas) will be approved.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBottom line Biden's first 100 days is stylistic 'antithesis' of Trump The Memo: Washington's fake debate on 'bipartisanship' MORE (D-Nev.) on Tuesday said he opposes including any triggers in the bill that would have to be pulled before the path to citizenship is granted to millions of immigrants.

That likely dooms Cornyn’s measure, which could come up for a vote as early as Wednesday. It would make permanent legal residency for illegal immigrants contingent on reaching ambitious border-security benchmarks.

In another blow to the amendment on Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse conservatives take aim at Schumer-led bipartisan China bill There will be no new immigration law under Biden, unless he changes course McConnell safe in power, despite Trump's wrath MORE (S.C.), a Republican member of the Gang of Eight, said he would vote against it.

If Cornyn’s amendment isn’t added, he and a number of other Republicans are unlikely to support the bill.

“Absent passage of that sort of enforcement mechanism, I can’t support this bill, and there will be many Republicans who cannot and many others who believe that it’s just another hollow promise,” Cornyn said Tuesday.

Losing Cornyn’s vote will imperil the support of other Republican leaders. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellManchin, Biden huddle amid talk of breaking up T package Romney: Removing Cheney from House leadership will cost GOP election votes The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden reverses Trump limits on transgender protections MORE (Ky.) last week called Cornyn’s “the key amendment.”

Democrats have signaled in recent days that they’ll be satisfied if they don’t get a supermajority of more than 70 votes, a goal of Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHouse conservatives take aim at Schumer-led bipartisan China bill There will be no new immigration law under Biden, unless he changes course This week: Congressional leaders to meet with Biden amid GOP reckoning MORE (N.Y.), who believes it would give House Republicans political cover to support comprehensive immigration reform.

Reid has told Schumer not to worry about the political calculus in the House.

“I have talked to my four Democrats [on] the Gang of Eight and I have told them, ‘Concentrate on the Senate. Don’t at this stage worry about what’s going to happen in the House,’ ” Reid told reporters Tuesday.

It will now be more difficult to reach the 70-vote mark, even though Graham predicted in an NBC interview Sunday that the Senate legislation will pass with “plus 70 votes.”

Democrats can count on about 10 Republicans to vote for the bill, but that gets them to 64 votes for final passage.

The Republicans considered most likely to vote yes are the four members of the Senate Gang of Eight —Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDemocrats cool on Crist's latest bid for Florida governor Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (Fla.), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainEx-McSally aide pleads guilty to stealing over 0K in campaign funds DOJ: Arizona recount could violate civil rights laws Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women MORE (Ariz.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeThe unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  Cindy McCain: Arizona election audit is 'ludicrous' The Republicans' deep dive into nativism MORE (Ariz.) and Graham — and Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiUtah county GOP censures Romney over Trump impeachment vote Bottom line Pollster Frank Luntz: 'I would bet on' Trump being 2024 GOP nominee MORE (Alaska), 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.), Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission  Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (Ill.), 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.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTop female GOP senator compares Cheney ousting to 'cancel culture' Utah county GOP censures Romney over Trump impeachment vote House conservatives take aim at Schumer-led bipartisan China bill MORE (Maine). 

Reid warned that any amendments that put obstacles in the pathway to citizenship would threaten Democratic support.

“I’m not in favor of a trigger,” he said. “If there needs [to be] more done in the eyes of some senators on border security, put those proposals forward.

“But we have to be really, really careful with triggers, because there are a lot of important things in this legislation,” he added. “The pathway to citizenship is really important.”

The Senate voted Tuesday, largely along party lines, to reject a trigger proposed by Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTop female GOP senator compares Cheney ousting to 'cancel culture' GOP braces for wild week with momentous vote Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women MORE (S.D.), the third-ranking member of the Republican leadership.

The Senate voted 39-54 to defeat Thune’s proposal to require the construction of 350 miles of new fence along the southern border before granting provisional legal status to immigrants.

Members of the Gang of Eight had been negotiating with Cornyn about changing his amendment. After Cornyn told Republican colleagues at a closed-door meeting last week that he was open to modifying it, some of them felt convinced he would ultimately vote for the bill, paving the way for it to pass with more than 70 votes.

However, no deal on the Cornyn amendment was in sight Tuesday afternoon.

“The one part that’s non-negotiable is the part that actually enforces the standard set out in the Gang of Eight bill,” Cornyn said.

The Senate bill sets the goals of 100 percent border-monitoring capabilities and a 90 percent apprehension rate of illegal entrants along the southern border but does not require them before granting permanent legal residency. Cornyn would make those goals mandatory.

Democratic members of the Gang say this demand is unacceptable.

Durbin has called the apprehension rate trigger “totally unacceptable.”

“What would not be acceptable to us is a sense that the pathway to citizenship is somehow contingent or not real,” said Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetManchin on collision course with Warren, Sanders Democrats vow to push for permanent child tax credit expansion Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap MORE (Colo.), another Democratic member of the Gang.

The stalemate over a border-security trigger for the pathway to citizenship leaves it to other Republicans to negotiate a deal. Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Fox News inks contributor deal with former Democratic House member MORE (R-Tenn.) and 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 (R-N.D.) are working on an amendment to strengthen border security, and so is Rubio.

Negotiators say they were working diligently but had nothing to report as of Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re working away. We’re working away,” McCain said. “Constant meetings, constant conversations.”

“I think we should have had something yesterday,” he said.