By a vote of 82 to 15 on Tuesday, the Senate cleared the first hurdle toward voting on a comprehensive immigration reform bill that could potentially provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. This was the first vote on an immigration overhaul in six years.
There are still many obstacles to overcome before immigration reform becomes law, but this first vote means that the bill has cleared the 60-vote threshold to avoid a filibuster on even considering the measure.
All 15 of the votes against moving the bill forward were Republicans. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), a moderate representing a state with an estimated 525,000 undocumented immigrants, surprised many by voting against moving forward.
But the majority of Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), joined their Republican colleagues in the Gang of Eight to help bring about the bipartisan vote.
One of the most anticipated votes, newly-appointed Sen. Jeff Chiesa (R-NJ) voted yes. He had previously kept quiet about how he would vote, only saying that he’s a “conservative who favors putting border security first.” Chiesa replaced Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who had been a huge immigration reform advocate.
Gang of Eight member Sen. Rubio (R-FL) voted for cloture, a day after it was revealed that he had pledged not to vote for his own immigration reform effort because of what he considers lax border security. Other Republican senators have used the same opportunity to create a partisan fissure in opposing a pathway to citizenship because of what they perceived to be inadequate “boots to the ground” operation and fencing.
Senators are hopeful that the bill will be voted in its entirety before July 4th. The immigration bill presented by the House will likely be difficult to pass, but House Speaker Boehner (R-OH) believes that reform will pass by the end of the year.
By a vote of 84 to 15, the Senate reaffirmed its earlier vote this afternoon by approving the motion to proceed. Both Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) did not vote during the filibuster roll call, but voted in favor of proceeding to debate. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) had voted in favor of cloture, but voted not to proceed to debate. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) stayed on course with his “no” vote through both votes. Gang of Eight member Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was absent for both votes. They will now begin debate on the bill.