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Immigration reform: Senate Republicans on the cusp of buying in? (+video)

Republican senators are bringing new momentum to the bid to boost support for immigration reform, even as the GOP-controlled House strikes a harsher tone.

By Staff writer / June 18, 2013

Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee (c.), who is emerging as a key player in the Senate bid for immigration reform, jokes with reporters as he departs following the weekly Republican caucus luncheon on Capitol Hill Monday.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

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WASHINGTON

Two pragmatic Senate Republicans are working furiously with Senate immigration reformers to strike a compromise on a package of amendments to the bipartisan reform bill, offering up the Senate’s most realistic chance of passing a reform bill with the slew of GOP votes that the bill’s authors have long coveted.  

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“We have some people on our side of the aisle that aren’t going to support the immigration bill, period,” says Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee, who along with Sen. John Hoeven (R) of North Dakota are working on the GOP’s amendment package.

Yet “there are a number of people on our side of the aisle that if we can just get it tailored a little bit with a few other amendments, [they] might be willing to send it over to the House,” Senator Corker says. “And there are a lot of people who think it might come back over here in a little better form than it leaves.”

What makes the effort by Corker and Senator Hoeven, two junior lawmakers with no previous immigration chops, so notable is that it appears to represent the best shot at striking the careful balance between assuaging Republican concerns about a lack of specific border-security requirements in the bill and Democratic fears about new security requirements that could obstruct a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented residents.

By adding amendments from a handful of other Republicans on top of that border-security compromise, the bill could deliver as many as a dozen GOP senators as-yet uncommitted to the bill, guaranteeing its passage and, the bill’s authors hope, pushing the House to the negotiating table on immigration. The Senate is currently split between 54 Democrats and 46 Republicans.

“Corker and I are trying to gather enough of these things together so we can get a meaningful, bipartisan group on the bill and frankly something that gets broad public support," says Hoeven. "I think these things are needed to get broad public support.... That’s not just important for the Senate, but I think it’s going to make a big difference about what happens in the House.”

The issue of what happens in the House of Representatives took on added import on Tuesday, as House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio said he would not bring any immigration bills to the floor that would fail to garner support from more than half of his restive conference.

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