The Senate approved the most sweeping immigration reform bill since the Reagan administration Thursday without the support of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who voted against the bill in part because an amendment he’d authored didn’t get a floor vote.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who also had amendments that weren’t included in the final measure, supported the bill. The final vote was 68-32, with all Democrats and 14 supporting the legislation.
Although the measure faces an uncertain fate in the U.S. House, the Senate vote marked a rare legislative step forward on an issue that has deeply divided much of the country.
Portman, R-Ohio, wanted the Senate to debate and vote on an amendment he’d authored aimed at strengthening the federal system that verifies that prospective employees are not in the country illegally. He argued that his provision was key to making the overall bill work, and that the last major immigration overhaul, which occurred in 1986, failed in part because it did not include a strong employment verification system.
Senate leaders offered to tuck the provision into the final version of the bill. Portman declined, saying he wanted a debate and a vote in order to help sway some House Republicans who are concerned about the bill and also in order to make sure it appeared in whatever Congress finally passes.
His insistence on a floor vote reached a boiling point Wednesday night, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused Portman of “pontificating” on the Senate floor and holding up final passage.
“This senator from Ohio was offered to put this in the bill,” Reid said. “He turned it down and we’re spending all this time here because he’s…he’s been aggrieved in some way? He had the opportunity to put this amendment in the bill as it’s offered.”
Reid accused Portman of wanting “a big show out here.”
“I’ve had enough,” Reid said. “I know he’s a smart man. He’s been head of (the White House Office of Management and Budget), lots of good things. I know nothing bad about him. But that’s enough of this.”
His comments spurred a visibly angry Portman to respond that his amendment might help win support among House Republicans, who have expressed wariness over the overall measure.
Without appropriate workplace enforcement provisions, he said, “There’s no way I can look my constituents in the eye and tell them this legislation is going to work.”
Brown, however, said the bill would help the economy grow, strengthen the borders and “fix a broken immigration system so that everyone plays by the same rules.”
The bill now goes to the House, where the Republican majority has expressed deep reservations, particularly about any measure that would grant citizenship to those who came to the country illegally.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., said Thursday he would not put that bill on the floor unless he was confident a majority of Republicans would support it.
In the Senate, the outcome provided a rare show of cooperation as a small bipartisan group of senators — including oft-mentioned 2016 presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida — worked out the current bill. But division among Republicans was evident as two other candidates on presidential lists, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, were strongly opposed.
The legislation’s chief provisions include numerous steps to prevent future illegal immigration and to check the legal status of job applicants already living in the United States. At the same time, it offers a 13-year path to citizenship to as many as 11 million immigrants now living in the country illegally.
The measure also requires 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, the completion of 700 miles (1,226 kilometers) of fencing and the deployment of an array of high-tech devices along the U.S.-Mexico border.
This story includes information from the Associated Press
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