The long-awaited debate on the bipartisan Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform bill is underway in the Senate. But there is no doubt whatsoever that — no matter what is said in the initial debate — the bill will pass its first hurdle.
That first step, now under discussion, is a motion to proceed to a debate on the bill. In other words, it’s a debate about whether to have a debate. For the bill to move forward, there have to be 60 votes in favor. That won’t be a problem; in addition to 54 Democratic votes, there is significant Republican agreement that the Senate should go forward to begin debate on the Gang legislation.
That agreement includes Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who announced recently that he will vote in favor of the motion to proceed. “With regard to getting started on the bill, it’s my intention if there is a motion to proceed required, to vote for the motion to proceed so we can get on the bill,” McConnell said after a Republican conference meeting May 21. Doing so, McConnell added, will enable lawmakers to “see if it is — if we’re able to pass a bill that actually moves the ball in the right direction.” The next day, during an interview with Fox News, McConnell pronounced himself “undecided about the bill but not undecided about the problem.”
McConnell’s won’t be the only Republican vote in favor of moving on to debate. The fact that the Minority Leader announced how he would vote after meeting with fellow GOP lawmakers is significant. “McConnell doesn’t come out of a conference lunch without taking the temperature of his conference,” says one Republican aide. “The context of that matters.” Translation: Republicans won’t try to stop the bill before it even hits the Senate floor.
Of course, the vote on a motion to proceed to the bill — now scheduled for Tuesday afternoon — is just the first of what are likely to be many 60-vote hurdles for the legislation. There will be 60-vote requirements on a number of amendments, and, at the end, a crucial 60-vote requirement on moving the bill toward a final up-or-down vote. It’s not clear how Republicans will vote on those. But it is clear the Gang bill is headed toward a real debate.