After just a few hours of floor speeches Monday afternoon, the Senate voted 67-27 to proceed on an amendment to the immigration bill that would increase border security funding, taking another step toward the legislation's final passage.
Fifteen Republicans joined Democrats in support of a motion, which required 60 votes to proceed.
As part of an agreement between Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Democratic Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, the amendment is intended to ease concerns of skeptical lawmakers who are calling for tougher border enforcement as part of the bill.
The Corker-Hoeven amendment retains much of the language of the original bill proposed by a bipartisan group of eight senators earlier this year, but adds 119 new pages that would strengthen security measures by nearly doubling the amount of security agents along the nation's borders. The bill would also mandate the construction of a fence stretching "no less than" 700 miles along the U.S. border with Mexico and provide funding for aerial surveillance of the area. The federal government will be required to meet a series of security benchmarks before immigrants living in the country illegally would be allowed to obtain permanent legal status.
“The American people want a strong, comprehensive immigration reform plan, but we need to get it right,” Hoeven said in a statement last week. “That means first and foremost securing the southern border before we address other meaningful reforms to our immigration policy. They want to know that ten years from now, we won’t find ourselves in this same position, having to address the same problem.”
Lawmakers rejected a similar (and less costly) amendment to the bill proposed by Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn last week by tabling the measure, so supporters of the new amendment hope it will serve as a vessel to entice more Republicans to sign on to the bill.
Before the vote, many Republicans stressed that they did not have enough time to read and debate the amendment, which was introduced late Friday afternoon after many lawmakers had already left Washington.
"It continues to be my hope that we can do something lasting and important about our broken immigration system. Living up to our commitments to our constituents, particularly with respect to border security, has long been of critical importance for me," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted against the motion to proceed on the amendment, said in a statement Monday. "Sadly, I’m not convinced that this amendment solves that problem, and I see no good reason why we would need to vote on it so hastily."
Speaking on the Senate floor Monday before the vote, Corker responded to critics, saying that the new measures in the bill as part of the amendment would take less than an hour to read over the weekend.
"It's not as if something has been dropped on people that is from outer space," Corker said. "This is 119 pages, it's easy to read. All of us could read it in a short amount of time."
The co-authors of the original immigration bill, including Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have spoken optimistically about securing as many as 70 votes for the final bill in the Senate, the number they think the bill needs to show the effort has wide bipartisan support. The bill is likely to get the support from 60 members needed to overcome a filibuster, but getting 70 would put pressure on the House—a chamber with a higher concentration of conservative lawmakers—to act.
“We’re very, very close to getting 70 votes," Graham said during a weekend interview on “Fox News Sunday.”