The Hill –
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.
The bill’s authors fell just short of their goal to win 70 votes for the legislation but said the robust bipartisan vote creates a strong mandate for the House to act next month on the issue.
Fourteen Republicans voted to end debate and not a single Democrat opposed it, a significant victory for Sen. Charles Schumer (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 Leahy (D-Vt.) declared: “Today is another historic day in the Senate.”
Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.) — the four GOP authors of the legislation — and Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Jeffery Chiesa (N.J.), Susan Collins (Maine), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Dean Heller (Nev.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Lamar Alexander (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 Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (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 Pryor (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Kay Hagan (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 Boehner (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,” Boehner 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.