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The U.S. Senate appears closer to approving major changes to the nation's immigration laws. This is a top priority for President Obama, who meets today with congressional leaders at the White House to talk about the issue. The legislation got a big boost last night: two-thirds of the Senate voted to move forward on a bipartisan measure that tightens security along the border with Mexico. That vote brings the Senate closer to passage of a broader bill, but there is still stiff opposition in the GOP-led House.
NPR's David Welna has the story.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: It took two moderate, business-friendly Republican senators to nudge the Senate's immigration bill onto what now appears to be a glide path to passage later this week. Along with Tennessee's Bob Corker, North Dakota Republican John Hoeven offered an amendment aimed at beefing up border security - a top concern for Republicans - without blocking the path to citizenship that Democrats seek for millions of unlawful immigrants.
SENATOR JOHN HOEVEN: This is truly about coming up with legislation that wins the support of the American people, and bipartisan support in this Senate and in the House and in this Congress. That's what it takes.
WELNA: Fifteen of the 67 votes to move ahead with the border security measure came from Republicans. The bill's sponsors were hoping for 70 votes, but five senators, two of them Democrats, missed the vote. Still, New York Democrat Charles Schumer, a lead sponsor, said last night's vote puts the wind at the backs of the bill's supporters. It antes up 46 billion more dollars to be spent securing the Mexican border and doubles the number of Border Patrol agents deployed there.
SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER: So, yes, there's a lot of resources on the border. And yes, each of us if we wrote the bill might do it in a different way or put in more money or less money. But no one can dispute that the border becomes virtually airtight.
WELNA: No one, except for 27 Republicans who voted not to end a filibuster of the border security amendment, Ted Cruz of Texas was one of them.
SENATOR TED CRUZ: What is the rush? Why are we proceeding gangbusters? And the only explanation that makes sense is there are many senators it seems in this body - perhaps on both sides of the aisle - that very much want a fig leaf. They want something that they can claim we are supporting border security, when in fact this bill does not.
WELNA: Majority leader Harry Reid seemed certain about the overall immigration bill's prospects in the Senate but not so much in the chamber headed by House Speaker John Boehner.
SENATOR HARRY REID: The immigration bill will pass this chamber with Democratic and Republican votes. And when the immigration bill passes, the speaker should bring it up for a vote in the House of Representatives quickly. So I say, Mr. Speaker, rather than twisting the arms of Tea Party extremists, just work with the moderates from both parties to pass bipartisan legislation.
WELNA: Adding to the pressure on Boehner is a new ad the U.S. Chamber of Commerce began airing this week on conservative radio stations and cable TV networks. It prominently features Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Gang of Eight that drew up the immigration bill.
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WELNA: Still, Boehner is insisting he won't bring up any immigration bill that the majority of his fellow House Republicans won't support. And most of them appear opposed to the path to citizenship, which the Senate bill promises and which President Obama has said must be part of any bill he signs into law. But White House spokesman Jay Carney was not laying out any ultimatums when asked yesterday about a House immigration bill.
JAY CARNEY: I don't want to draw any lines in the sand about what we're hoping or expecting to see out of the House. We want to continue to see progress.
WELNA: And of that, so far, there's been very little in the House.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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