J. Scott Applewhite / AP
Published Thursday, June 27, 2013 | 10:48 a.m.
Updated Thursday, June 27, 2013 | 1:44 p.m.
The Senate has passed historic immigration legislation offering the hope of American citizenship to millions, while promising a military-style surge to secure the border.
The vote was 68-32, eight more than needed to send the measure to the House. Prospects there are not nearly as good and many conservatives are opposed.
To mark the occasion, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ordered the Senate to take that vote in one of the most ceremonial fashions at its disposal: a seated vote.
“This is legislation we’ve been working on for many years. … It’s historic in nature,” Reid said Thursday afternoon. “We should be here to vote, in our chairs.”
Normally, the Senate floor is a free-for-all during votes, with senators dipping in to register their “ayes” and “nays” with quick thumbs up or down, and slipping out long before the vote is closed. A few stop to chat with their colleagues. But few ever actually sit at their desks.
“Some senators used to argue that they should vote from their desks all the time, but they vote so many times during the day that they’re not all in the chamber at once,” said Senate historian Donald Ritchie. “But when there’s a special occasion, to reflect the significance of the legislation ... they have a seated vote.”
Since President Barack Obama took office, Ritchie has recorded only seven occasions when the Senate has taken a seated vote. Those include both times the Senate voted on the Affordable Care Act, in 2009 and 2010; the 2010 vote to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court and another vote that year to impeach federal judge J. Thomas Porteous; and a vote to commend the troops that killed Osama bin Laden.
Most recently, Reid had the senators sit for votes in March, during a marathon budget vote-a-rama. But he only decided that they should sit around 3 a.m., to save time and speed up the all-night session with quick roll calls.
The Senate is expected to pass the immigration reform bill Thursday afternoon, after several procedural and amendment votes that have shown there is a strong, filibuster-proof majority willing to support the bill.
Early Thursday afternoon, the Senate passed the conference committee’s understanding of the bill and the procedural measure that sets up the final vote on immigration, both by a vote of 68 to 32. That is not significantly different from the majority that voted to finally approve the central border security amendment to the legislation on Wednesday by a vote of 69 to 29.
Senate Republican leaders did not join many members of their caucus, such as Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller, on any of those votes.
But if that majority holds for the final vote, the Senate will be able to claim significant bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform as it heads to the House of Representatives.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.