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Immigration reform passes the US Senate; now begins the hard part

This May 18, 2013, file photo, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch addresses the Utah Republican Party's annual organizing convention, in Sandy, Utah. Hatch says he'll vote in favor of the latest immigration reform package, retreating from his demand that the Senate bill require immigrants here illegally to pay back taxes.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
Senator Orrin Hatch would like to welcome you to America.
  • Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The comprehensive immigration reform bill that would reshape the population and workforceof the United States today passed the Senate with a bipartisan vote of 68-32. From there it will go to the House of Representatives, where it must be approved for final passage.

It’s no surprise that the bill did well in the Senate. It enjoys the support both of business lobbyists and of the Democratic party’s key constituencies. Things get harder now because in the Republican-controlled House, immigration skeptics have more power. It’s not clear whether the speaker, the Republicans’ John Boehner, can politically afford to let a bill that most Republicans oppose pass largely with votes from the Democratic minority.

Some, like Business Insider’s Josh Barro, think it could happen, because many Republicans in fact support the bill, though they can’t be seen to vote for it:

… For many, many House Republicans, the ideal situation is for a reform bill to pass over their objections. Business interests will get the bill they want, Democrats will be deprived of a powerful talking point with Hispanic voters, and individual house members will be able to tell conservative primary voters that they tried to “stop amnesty.” Win, win, win.

Others, like TPM’s Brian Beutler, aren’t so sure that the bill will make it through the complex procedural wringer that would give Republicans the political cover they need to let the bill pass. Rather than taking up the Senate bill, Boehner says the House will write its own version. It would probably lose Democratic support along the way and require negotiations with the Senate to agree on a final product. And a final vote could still require Boehner to bring a bill to the floor that only a minority of his party will vote for. Plus, all the delay could drag negotiations into the fall, when legislators will once again be occupied with the debate about lifting the debt ceiling. For the bill to succeed, in other words, a lot needs to go right.

One creative idea to streamline the process is a “discharge position,” a procedural loophole that advocates of immigration reform may pursue, and which would allow 218 like-minded members to bring a bill directly to a vote.

Here’s a reminder of the last time everyone thought that immigration reform was making good progress:

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