Tuesday, June 11, 2013 | 4:29 p.m.
Immigration reform is off to the races in the Senate with the wind at its back, if Tuesday’s two opening procedural votes are any indicator.
The Senate voted 82-15 early Tuesday afternoon to advance the comprehensive immigration reform bill and 84-15 a few hours later to take up the legislation.
Both of Nevada’s senators voted with the majority.
But while overwhelming votes to open the debate suggest there are many senators willing to embrace the concept of a comprehensive immigration reform bill, it is not likely that as many senators will back the Senate’s final product.
In fact, lawmakers still aren’t sure they have the 60 votes necessary to clear the ever-present threat of a filibuster.
“We’re going to need some cooperation from the Republicans,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Tuesday. Reform supporters need to “be very, very careful of senators who have no intention for voting for this bill, zero...no matter what happens on amendments,” he said.
Several Republicans have been hedging support for the immigration bill, claiming that their votes are contingent on whether the Senate adopts a series of amendments in the next few weeks.
Reid has promised to be “as open as possible” to Republicans raising amendments to the immigration bill, so long as they are germane to the topic of immigration.
But Reid has already singled out a few amendments that could make or break Republican votes as non-starters.
Last week, Reid told the Sun in an interview that an expansive border security amendment from Sen. John Cornyn, which the Texas senator has said is critical to his support, was a “poison pill.”
Cornyn voted in favor of both motions to advance the immigration blll today.
“There’s a wide variance of opinion on exactly what action needs to be,” Cornyn said, “but I can’t think of a more important topic for Congress to engage in than to fix our broken immigration system.”
Senators who have insisted on specific amendments as a precondition to their vote range from those Republicans who want to make sweeping changes, such as Cornyn, to those Republicans who want to make more narrow changes, such as Sen. Orrin Hatch’s insistence that a final bill include a requirement that undocumented immigrants pay back taxes before earning a pathway to citizenship, to some conservative Democrats, such as Sen. Joe Manchin, who wants to require young undocumented immigrants to graduate from college, not just complete two years, to qualify for the expedited path to citizenship under the DREAM Act.
But there are also many senators, such as Nevada’s Sen. Dean Heller, who have not yet staked their vote on a single issue but are preparing to introduce amendments to the bill that may or may not determine their ability to support the final product.
“While this is a promising piece of legislation, there are certain areas of the bill that must be addressed,” Heller said in a statement following Tuesday’s votes. “As I introduce amendments in the coming days to address these concerns, I will continue to work with my colleagues to improve the bill, protect the portions of it that are already good, and hopefully help shape it into legislation that can pass the Senate and the House.”
At present, there are approximately 54 senators, at best count, who have come forward to declare they are ready to vote for comprehensive immigration reform.
Reid reiterated on Tuesday that he intended for the Senate to complete its work on immigration by Independence Day, and expects Speaker John Boehner to follow suit in the House after.