The vote Tuesday was proof, say supporters of immigration reform, that the majority of Senate Republicans believe it would be politically toxic to be labeled obstructionists.
Senate Republicans have dodged being easily tarred for blocking immigration reform, as more than half their caucus helped Democrats Tuesday overcome a pair of procedural hurdles to amending and debating the comprehensive immigration bill.
Yet whether the GOP decides the bipartisan Senate immigration fix is ultimately better than the current broken system remains an open question.
Many Republicans who voted in the affirmative Tuesday also said the bill needed significant changes to gain their final approval. Several cited an amendment from Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas that aims to amp up border security as a key requirement.
“I think the status quo is completely unacceptable,” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky told reporters after voting for the measure. “The legal immigration improvements in the bill are really quite good things that we should have done years ago. The contentious parts of it obviously are in the categories of benefits [for those in the country illegally] and border [security].”
The Senate moved ahead on the immigration reform bill Tuesday with two heavily bipartisan votes. The second, which passed on an 84-15 vote, saw 30 Republicans join all 54 Democrats in support. (Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, one of the bill’s sponsors, is a surefire “yes,” but missed both votes.)
The broad GOP support was a strongly positive sign for conservative immigration reformers.