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Senate votes to begin historic immigration reform debate

In an initial victory for proponents of comprehensive immigration reform, the Senate on Tuesday easily passed a procedural vote to begin debate on the broad bipartisan measure, with just 15 senators -- all Republicans -- objecting.

Sen. Marco Rubio talks about immigration reform legislation in the Senate and his political future.

The preliminary 82-15 vote -- which required 60 votes for passage -- offers an initial show of strength for supporters of the legislation, although some Republicans who voted for the initial procedural measure say they will not support the final product unless amendments are added to strengthen the legislation’s requirements to secure the nation’s southern border.

A short while later, a vote on the motion to proceed -- which needed just a simple majority -- passed by a similar 84-15 margin.

The votes came hours after President Barack Obama, flanked by a broad array of supporters in remarks at the White House, urged Congress to act on the legislation and warned opponents that there is “no good reason to play procedural games or engage in obstruction.”

“If you’re serious about actually fixing the system, then this is the vehicle to do it,” Obama said.

A final vote on the legislation is not expected until before the chamber’s July 4 recess. Obama said Tuesday that he wants the bill to his desk by the end of the summer.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks Tuesday at the White House regarding proposed immigration reform legislation.

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, an outspoken opponent of the bill, acknowledged after the vote that the bill likely has sufficient support in the upper chamber but warned that -- without changes -- it won’t survive to a White House signing ceremony.

“This bill is going to pass the Senate, but as written, this bill will not pass the House,” Cruz said.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Gang of Eight member and key GOP backer of the legislation, told reporters earlier Tuesday he believes the bill will pass out of the Senate but that it will need substantial Republican momentum to beat back opponents in the GOP-led House.

“If we get just a handful of Republicans I think it probably dies in the House, so I think it’s imperative we get close to half our conference” for a final vote, he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid talks Tuesday about House Speaker John Boehner's view of immigration reform legislation in Congress.

The Senate will now spend the remainder of the month debating and amending the bill, with much of the legislative oxygen being devoted to amendments that Republicans say are designed to woo more support from GOP members.

One such measure is an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas that would put in place more stringent “triggers” for border security before undocumented immigrants with probationary legal status can apply for green cards.

Speaking with Cornyn at his side, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pointed to the Texas lawmaker’s proposed legislation as “the key amendment” that -- if adopted -- that would ensure border security to the satisfaction of Republicans.

Cornyn told reporters on Capitol Hill that he has been in conversations with Democratic members of the Gang of Eight about the amendment, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid calls “a poison pill.”

“I think if they had 60 votes to pass the bill out of the Senate, they probably wouldn't be talking to me,” Cornyn told reporters. “But they are, which tells me that they view this as a way to get out of the Senate on a bipartisan basis and give it some momentum and increase the likelihood of a bill passing in the House.”

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