Senate Immigration Bill Zooms Over First Hurdle, 82-15

Wearing a shirt that reads “Keep Families Together,” 2-year-old Eric Lopez of Richfield, Minn., runs outside the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup session for the immigration reform bill on May 20, 2013, in Washington, D.C. Lopez’s father was departed to Mexico when his mother was six months pregnant and living in a shelter.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Nobody expected the first vote on the Senate’s first immigration bill to fail. The only question was on the margin. How large was the rump of Republicans who wouldn’t support any version of any bill? What would happen if the motion to proceed to debate merely squeaked past 60 votes?

“It would be bad,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham before the vote. “If we get 61 votes, good luck getting it through the House. If we just get a handful of Republicans, I think it dies in the House.”

This was a master class in expectation setting. The bill sailed through the first cloture vote, 82-15, winning every Democrat and all but 15 voting Republicans: John Barrasso, John Boozman, Mike Crapo, Ted Cruz, Mike Enzi, Chuck Grassley, James Inhofe, Mark Kirk, Mike Lee, Jim Risch, Pat Roberts, Tim Scott, Jeff Sessions, Richard Shelby, and David Vitter.

So: Only the delegations from Alabama, Idaho, and Wyoming voted fully against proceeding to debate. Less trivially, reformers have stuck to “70” as the number they need to hit in the Senate in order to build momentum for a vote on a House reform bill. They can afford to lose 12 of today’s “aye” votes; Republicans are convinced they can limit those losses if they allow some amendments that allow them to save face on “border security.” (They can’t leave the impression that they’re allowing “amnesty first,” even if effectively they just plus up security while not deporting anyone.)