WASHINGTON — The Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform Thursday, shifting the focus to the Republican-controlled House where prospects for reform remain dim.
With the Senate chamber's galleries packed with tourists and pro-reform activists, Vice President Joe Biden presided over the historic vote as lawmakers voting from their desks — a ceremonial procedure reserved for major bills.
Sixty-eight Democrats and Republicans ultimately voted in favor of the legislation. That fell two votes short of the 70-vote threshold the bill's authors had hoped for in order to give reform momentum as it moves into the House.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, an opponent of the bill, called that a "strategic defeat for them," particularly given stiff opposition amongst House Republicans.
Indeed, prior to the vote, Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican who has in the past worked with a bipartisan reform group in the House, told reporters bluntly, "The Senate bill is dead on arrival."
The bipartisan Gang of Eight senators had worked for months to move the bill, which overhauls the nation's immigration system, bolsters border and interior security systems, and provides a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers currently living in the United States.
Attention will now move fully to the House, where conservatives have held virtually every major piece of legislation hostage as Republican leaders have struggled to control their conference. Speaker John Boehner announced Thursday that following the July 4 vacation, he would convene a meeting of his conference to discuss immigration. "When we get back we're going to have a conference on July the 10th on the way forward … We're going to have a conversation about a pathway forward," Boehner said. Boehner, who has promised conservatives not to move a bill that does not have a majority of Republicans behind it, also told reporters that he believes the best way to move forward is with a massive show of bipartisanship. "There ought to be a majority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans in favor," he said.
That, however, is easier said that done. Republicans have essentially abandoned the idea of a single sweeping reform bill and are now pursuing an approach that separates enforcement from the pathway to citizenship. Although popular with conservatives, that is essentially unworkable for Democrats and the White House.