Can immigration reform pass? Five senators to watch.

Immigration reform will pass the Senate before the Fourth of July, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada has vowed. Here are five key senators (or groups of senators) that will be pivotal during the two weeks of debate.

4. Two moderate Republicans

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine is interviewed by reporters in Washington earlier this year.

While some red-state Democrats and Republicans like Cornyn look like “no” votes that need to be persuaded, Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine look like “ayes” waiting to step forward. 

Neither senator has endorsed the legislation, à la Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) of New Hampshire, a close confidante of two of the bill’s main sponsors. She gave her support to the measure before it landed on the Senate floor. 

But beyond the fact that Senators Murkowski and Collins both have a pragmatic streak, there are hints that they could back the measure. 

Collins is the only co-sponsor of Senator Leahy’s amendment to offer same-sex couples equal immigration treatment. While that’s not tantamount to adopting the bevy of immigration changes in the bill, it is evidence that Collins – up for (a largely assured) reelection in 2014 in the blue state of Maine – has a different political calculus than many Republicans. 

In Murkowski’s case, she signed a letter from the three-person Alaska delegation (which includes Begich and Republican Rep. Don Young), affirming that they would consider the legislation “with open minds and open hearts.” 

While that, too, is far short of a commitment to vote for the bill, the letter’s opening paragraphs, which stress Alaska’s diverse population and its history of welcoming of refugees, cast immigration reform as proposed by the Gang of Eight in a positive light.

“We want our country’s 11 million undocumented people to be welcomed and to have a place to belong – free of fear,” the letter reads, quoting a leader of a group of native Alaskans. 

With Senator Ayotte, Murkowski, and Collins in the fold, Senate leaders will be, at worst, within a vote or two of the 60 senators needed to pass the legislation and perhaps pushing up toward their target of 70 affirmatives. 

If Murkowski and Collins break against the bill, that would almost certainly be among the signals of its doom.

4 of 5

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