Senate approves immigration reform bill 68-32

The Senate passed the immigration reform bill 68-32 on Thursday. Fourteen Republicans voted for the measure including:

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.


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.

Can the GOP House hold firm and prevent de facto amnesty while demanding immediate, substantative moves to secure the border - not the Senate plan which phases in "border security" measures over 10 years?

The answer is a qualified yes. There are easily more than half the GOP caucus in the House that opposes a path to citizenship. As long as that is part of any House bill, it will not even be voted on, if you can believe Speaker Boehner.

But that doesn't mean that there won't be some kind of legislative sleight of hand that will grant some kind of legal status to illegal aliens -but not be called a "path to citizenship." This is a time honored trick in Congress so that when someone accuses a member of voting for a "path to citizenship" he can truthfully respond that he did no such thing.

But even that is a very long shot. The issue is so charged with emotion that there are probably enough GOP members to shoot that idea down.And Republicans better get used to the idea that some kind of piecemeal immigration reform - probably in the form of 2 or 3 bills - will be offered to the Senate in a conference committee. During conference, it is likely that a few elements from the just passed comprehensive reform package will be tacked on.

But Senator Schumer and President Obama should climb down from their threats to oppose any House bill that does not have a path to citizenship for illegals. They are not going to get it so the question is; do they grow up and take half a loaf, or do they go down in flames and possibly get blamed for not passing real reform that much of the country supports?

If the Dems want to make immigration reform a mid-term issue, let them. It's a loser as long as the GOP can be seen as trying to bring some rationality to the debate by passing prudent, cautious reforms in the guest worker and visa programs, while putting some teeth in any border security legislation.

You can probably expect something called "comprehensive immigration reform" to pass by the end of the year.