The deal is expected to secure at least a dozen more Republican “yes” votes for the measure and could help ensure its passage by the sizable margin that proponents have said they need to make it viable in the House.
However, supporters say the chances of immigration legislation advancing in the GOP-controlled House remain a source of concern, and that concern has shaped the Senate negotiations from the outset.
Supporters have insisted that approval by a significant bipartisan majority of senators would politically compel House Republicans to vote on the Senate bill even as its members debate more limited and conservative proposals. But that is an untested proposition, and Thursday’s failure in the House of a federal farm bill, after the Senate passed its version 66-27 last week, only deepened the concerns.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) sought Thursday to tamp down expectations about immigration, saying that “regardless of what the Senate does, the House is going to work its will.”
Still, there was optimism in the Senate on Thursday following the announcement of the border security agreement. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the overall bill “is gaining Republican support” and that the new agreement “will be very helpful.”
The breakthrough is a clear victory for the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that wrote the immigration bill, and also for several centrist Senate Republicans who were always expected to support the bill but were holding out for stricter border security provisions.
The latest changes came at the request of Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who negotiated the terms of the deal on behalf of about a dozen colleagues.
“We are investing resources in the border that have never been invested before,” Corker said in announcing the agreement. “The American people have asked us, if we pass an immigration bill on the Senate floor, that we do everything we can to secure the border.”
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), said, “If this amendment holds together and if it passes as currently constructed, border security . . . will have been achieved at a level that no one thought could have been possible just a month ago.”
In an early demonstration of how the deal might secure more GOP support, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who had planned to oppose the bill, said he’ll vote yes because the new border security provisions “will restore the people’s trust in our ability to control the border.”
Most of the 54 senators in the Democratic caucus are expected to support the immigration measure, in addition to McCain, Graham and Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who are also members of the bipartisan drafting group. Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) is also on board, while at least 11 other GOP senators might decide to vote yes, according to Senate aides familiar with the issue.