UPDATE: The Senate passed the ‘Gang of 8’ bill by a 68-32 margin with 14 Republicans joining Democrats to approve the legislation.
Earlier: Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is voting against the comprehensive immigration reform bill due to a lack of border security provisions.
The Senate is expected to vote on the final version of the so-called ‘Gang of 8’ measure on Thursday, and observers predict it will receive bipartisan support.
Earlier this week, lawmakers amended the bill to include a number of security provisions such as doubling the number of federal agents, authorize aerial drones to track illegal crossings and require a 700-mile fence to be constructed along the U.S.-Mexico line.
The changes were co-sponsored by Republican John Hoeven of North Dakota, and received a bipartisan 69-29 vote in the Senate.
But speaking on the Senate floor Thursday morning, McConnell says the legislation still doesn’t meet a proper threshold of needed security and that it repeats the problems with previous bills.
“In other words, in the absence of a very firm, results-based border security trigger, there’s just no way I can look at my constituents, look them in the eye and tell them that today’s assurances won’t become tomorrow’s disappointments. And since the bill before us doesn’t include such a trigger, I won’t be able to support it,” he says.
Since its onset the immigration debate has put McConnell in a tight spot politically while dividing his GOP caucus.
The Senate Conservatives Fund, a PAC founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., launched a radio and television ad campaign pressuring McConnell to defeat the legislation. It also criticized the GOP leader for voting in favor of the “amnesty” bill in 1986.
“A simple ‘no’ vote is not enough from a leader,” a Senate Conservatives Fund statement said. “We need him to deliver results by defeating the bill.”
Earlier this week, McConnell’s Kentucky colleague in the Senate and fellow Republican Rand Paul made it clear he was not supporting the bill, saying it the current bill will given “gang members, drunk drivers, and sex offenders” an easier pathway to citizenship.
During the floor speech McConnell said the are improvements to the immigration system in the bill, but blamed Democrats for opposing stricter security amendments.
McConnell added he could not look his constituents in the eye without those provision being a part of the bill. But a recent poll showed a solid 3-to-1 majority of Kentuckians support the ‘Gang of 8’ overhaul to the U.S. immigration system.
“One thing I’m fairly certain about is that we’ll never resolve the immigration problem on a bipartisan basis either now or in the future until we can prove that the border is secure as a condition for legalization. This, to me, continues to be the biggest hurdle to reform,” he says. “Frankly, I can’t understand why there’s so much resistance to it on the other side.”
Immigration reform faces a tougher road in the Republican-controlled House, where leaders have said they will deal with border security before addressing legalization of the estimated 11 million undocumented residents.
The bipartisan group in the House, which includes Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky, is reviewing a draft version of the bill. The group’s Democratic members have also been spending the past two weeks lobbying fellow House members on the legislation.