Gang of Eight Bill Advances

by Jonathan Strong

The Senate Gang of Eight Bill passed its first procedural vote today when cloture on the motion to proceed succeeded 82–15, setting up what promises to be a slugfest on the issue over the next three weeks.

The vote was in line with expectations on both sides, and many of those who voted to allow the debate to proceed aren’t necessarily going to vote for the bill. Still, for those deeply opposed to the bill, the 15 “no” votes would seem to indicate a lot of work ahead.

The 15 Republicans who voted against the motion:

  • John Barasso, Wyoming
  • John Boozman, Arkansas
  • Mike Crapo, Idaho
  • Ted Cruz, Texas
  • Mike Enzi, Wyoming
  • Chuck Grassley, Iowa
  • Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma
  • Mark Kirk, Illinois
  • Mike Lee, Utah
  • James Risch, Idaho
  • Tim Scott, South Carolina
  • Jeff Sessions, Alabama
  • Richard Shelby, Alabama
  • David Vitter, Lousiana

Asked whether he could support a “path to citizenship” after the vote, minority leader Mitch McConnell said “there are certainly conditions under which I could end up supporting an immigration bill. We’re going to find out in the course of the next three weeks whether this becomes a bill that I and others can be comfortable supporting.”

Senator John Cornyn touted his border-security amendment to reporters, saying it “builds on the framework of the Gang of Eight.” Cornyn said the amendment makes border-security metrics a trigger for the transition from “registered provisional immigrant status,” to “legal permanent residency status.” In other words, although illegal immigrants would be legalized, they wouldn’t become citizens unless the government achieved certain border-security metrics.

Conservative critics have said that the only trigger that would work realistically is to condition the initial legalization on achieving border security.

Gang of Eight member Senator Lindsey Graham, however, offered a different take: that the pricetag could be too steep. “I’m all for better border security, but here are a few things that could break the bill apart: if it becomes unaffordable. Senator Cornyn is trying to improve border security. I appreciate that but we can’t afford a $25 billion addition. That just breaks the bank and it makes the bill — it will not be deficit neutral,” he told reporters.

A spokeswoman for Cornyn said the amendment appropriates $6.5 billion, not $25 billion. The text of the amendment has not yet been released.

Graham also raised concerns about the way the amendment changes the trigger structure. “If you want to have a new trigger on the pathway to citizenship regarding border security it has to be practical and achievable,” he said. Majority Leader Harry Reid, for his part, reiterated that Cornyn’s amendment is a “poison pill.”

Graham had this to say about President Obama’s speech on immigration today: “He’s been very good. The president’s tone and engagement has been very helpful to the bill. I am very pleased with the role the president’s played. . . . I can’t ask for more cooperation than he’s given.”

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