WASHINGTON -- Two local Democrats and one Republican voted "yes" Monday on a key procedural step to advance a sweeping immigration reform bill in the Senate.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) voted no on the procedural motion - and said he is "unlikely" to vote for the overall immigration plan.
Sens. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), Jeff Chiesa (R., N.J.) and Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) all supported the step, which moved a border security plan closer to passage, a critical step for the overall immigration reform package, which now seems likely to win final Senate approval later this week.
In a statement, Toomey argued that the bill needs more guest-worker provisions for low-skilled workers -- an idea that would help some businesses, but that is opposed by labor unions, who fear damages to wages.
"Absent a solution to this problem ... the underlying bill invites the next wave of illegal immigration to America," Toomey said. "This badly flawed, back-room process has led to a flawed bill. This is a shame because we need immigration reform that addresses those currently here illegally as well as the broken system under which they came. Absent substantive changes—which do not appear possible in the Senate at this point—I am unlikely to support the underlying bill."
The bill cleared a key procedural hurdle with 67 votes Monday. Chiesa, in his first major vote as a senator, was one of 15 Republicans who voted for the step.
"The senator has voted for a series of border security amendments, and he voted for this one as well. He will continue working to make the bill better,” a spokesman said. Chiesa has not taken a firm stance on the overall bill.
The vote was to advance a plan that would double the number of border agents in a "border surge" intended to comfort Republicans worried about security.
The "surge," if it wins final approval, is expected to help the overall immigration plan garner broad support in a final vote later this week, though it's fate in the House is uncertain, at best.
Some Republicans who opposed the security plan argued that it doesn't do enough, and that the bill will provide legalized status -- "amnesty" to critics -- for undocumented immigrants before the border protections are in place.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) came to the Senate floor with a poster featuring Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons and the phrase "I will gladly secure the border next Tuesday for legalization today."
He called the border security amendment "a fig leaf" for lawmakers who want to tell "gullible constituents" that they support tough security measures.
Menendez, speaking earlier on the Senate floor, said some opponents will never be satisfied with any bill that offers a path to legalization for immigrants who came to the country illegally.
"To suggest that it is the process, when really what you want to see is no comprehensive immigration reform, I think one should say what you really believe," Menendez said.
(Menendez, I wrote this weekend, has been a critical voice for Latinos in the immigration negotations).
Follow Tamari on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.