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Senate panel passes immigration reform bill: how Republicans helped shape it (+video)

The immigration reform bill, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 13-to-5 vote Tuesday night, received some tweaks aimed at attracting more GOP support during its next key vote on the Senate floor.

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The process drew acclaim from even the most deep-seated opponents of the legislation, with several Republican senators thanking Judiciary chairman Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont in their closing comments for organizing what the panel’s ranking Republican, Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa, called a “productive debate.”

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However, senators agreed that not everything was up for amendment, for fear that the delicate balance struck by the Gang of Eight could be undone. That group’s two Republican members on the panel hung with Democrats to defeat a slew of amendments regarding amped-up border security and forced widespread implementation of a biometric entry-exit system.

In one of the committee’s most emotional moments, a handful of Democrats said they would vote with all the panel’s Republicans to defeat Senator Leahy’s amendment allowing same-sex couples to be recognized by the federal government for immigration purposes – because that measure would all but guarantee GOP opposition to the bill on the Senate floor. Leahy withdrew the amendment.

“You’ve got me on immigration,” Senator Graham said. “You don’t have me on marriage.”

Several key Republicans indicated they would not attempt to block the measure from entering debate.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, who as his party’s leader in the Senate is often the frontman for holding back bills the GOP conference doesn’t like, told reporters he would vote to break an initial filibuster “so we can get on the bill and see ... if we're able to pass a bill that actually moves the ball in the right direction.”

“I think the Gang of Eight has made a substantial contribution to moving the issue forward,” Senator McConnell said Tuesday.

Two of the bill’s critics in the Judiciary Committee, Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas and Senator Grassley, both said they would vote affirmatively to move to debate on the bill. Such support makes it all but guaranteed that the measure has a quick route to further amendments on the Senate floor when Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada takes the measure up after the Memorial Day recess.

The fact that senators on both sides see a pressing need to move legislation forward even if they don’t agree with all of it was embodied best by Grassley, who said he would have voted for the bill if it meant the difference between it dying in committee or being sent to the full Senate.

With a broken immigration system, Grassley said, it’s incumbent on Congress to give the issue the fullest hearing possible – passing bills in both chambers and then untangling the differences in a conference committee.

“I believe we have to move this bill along, and I believe that nobody has their mind made up exactly what this bill is going to look like when this bill comes out of conference,” he said in his closing statement Tuesday. “In the final analysis, I won’t know if I’m for this bill or not [until] it gets to that final product.”

He added, “If this system is broken, we all ought to take every opportunity we can ... to make sure it is fixed and fixed right.”

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