This past week, the immigration bill was introduced on the Senate floor and debate in ernest began as well as amendments. The bill jumped a huge hurdle in clearing a cloture vote by a wide margin of 82-15 with most Republicans supporting the cloture vote. All this means though, is that the Senators voted to debate the bill, nothing more. I have cautioned friends that that vote is about procedure and not about the substance of the bill. The vote allows the Senate to formally debate the bill and offer amendments. A negative vote on cloture would have stopped that process in its tracks.
Many Senators, like Mitch McConnell (R-KY), voted for the bill to be openly debated even though he has serious reservations about the bill. Senate Majorityu Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) warned that many Republicans who had voted for the bill to be debated at no intention of voting for the bill to pass. The challenge of the bill's floor managers is to prevent "poison pill" amendments from being added to the bill that would have the effect of killing the bill.
The sticking point for conservatives are big ones. Many conservatives object to the path to citizenship, a policy they deride as amnesty for lawbreakers. Marco Rubio (R-FL), in recent weeks has seemed to waffle, much to the consternation of his fellow Gang of 8 members, but he and many others also want a final bill that is much tougher on enforcement. These are huge bones of contention and it is unclear how the bill's authors will manage these.
The more conservative House of Representatives will prove to be a major hurdle even if the Senate passes the bill. Although the Gang of 8 Senators are hopeful the Senate bill could garner up to 70 votes, which would send a strong message to the House, I think that number is overly-optimistic and the final vote will be a little over 60. I've blogged before about why electoral rules may make the pleas of their Senate colleagues to pass the bill fall on deaf ears in the Republican controlled House.
At the very least, this week the immigration bill passed a huge procedural hurdle. It is however sobering to feel so elated over a decision by the Senate to simply agree to debate the bill.