Will Comprehensive Immigration Reform Pass in the Senate? An Update

By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., tomkwong@ucsd.edu, @twong002

This week marks a critical test for comprehensive immigration reform. In advance of a scheduled vote on the bill, I revisit the initial predictions I made for the Senate in March. Scroll down for the results.

The Senate bill has largely remained in tact – mostly due to the absence of floor votes on a number of significant amendments. However, there have been some major developments. First, several efforts to use border triggers to prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining legal status have been defeated. Second, the Corker-Hoeven amendment to significantly bolster border security via a combination of increased personnel, fencing, technology, and other resources is likely to be voted on (and passed) this week.

I thus update my previous analyses by a) factoring in recent roll call votes on border trigger amendments – the Grassley, Thune, Paul, and Cornyn amendments – and b) past voting on border security measures that mirror the Corker-Hoeven amendment.

Republicans to Watch

Altogether, Republicans that are likely to support the bill are:

Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jeff Flake (Arizona), John McCain (Arizona), Marco Rubio (Florida), Mark Kirk (Illinois), Susan Collins (Maine), Dean Heller (Nevada), Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire), Jeffrey Chiesa (New Jersey), John Hoeven (North Dakota), Rob Portman (Ohio), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Bob Corker (Tennessee), Orrin Hatch (Utah), and Ron Johnson (Wisconsin).

In March, in addition to the 4 Republican members of the “gang of 8,” my models pegged the following Republicans as “solid yes” votes: Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mark Kirk (Illinois), Dean Heller (NV), and Patrick Toomey (Pennsylvania). All but Patrick Toomey are still predicted as “yes” votes. Moreover, my models also pegged some Republicans who have publicly expressed support for the Senate bill as “lean yes/no” votes (i.e., confidence intervals around their respective predicted probabilities intersect 0.5). These are: Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire), John Hoeven (North Dakota), and Orrin Hatch (Utah) – it would be awesome if I could also claim Bob Corker (Tennessee) on this list, but, alas, no.

While the recent votes on the border trigger amendments add some clarity to the predictions – mostly by reclassifying those as leaning one way or another into solid yes or no votes – there are some Republicans who remain in the “lean yes” category: Susan Collins (Maine), Rob Portman (Ohio), and Ron Johnson (Wisconsin). Note: Jeffrey Chiesa (New Jersey) is also predicted as a “lean yes” vote.

It is interesting to note that some of the most vocal opponents of the Senate bill – including John Cornyn (Texas), Ted Cruz (Texas), and Mike Lee (Utah) – are predicted as “lean no” rather than “solid no” votes in the updated analysis. Of course, I do not think that these are really swing votes. However, they are categorized as such given the large foreign-born populations in their respective states and the increased border security measures in the bill. It will thus be interesting to follow how a “no” vote by these Senators translates with voters during their next elections.

Democrats to Watch

In factoring in the border trigger votes, only 1 Democrat stands out as a potential “lean no” vote: Mark Pryor (Arkansas). Note: there are no Democrats predicted as “solid no” votes. In March, my models characterized Senator Pryor as a “lean yes” vote. However, he recently voted against tabling the Grassley and Cornyn amendments. It is also worth noting that while he is predicted as a “solid yes” vote, Joe Manchin (West Virginia) is another Democrat who voted against tabling the Grassley and Cornyn amendments.


There are 62 Senators predicted as “solid yes” votes, 6 who “lean yes,” 11 who “lean no,” and 21 predicted as “solid no” votes. A full list is available here. Assuming that all who are predicted as “solid yes” or “lean yes” actually vote yes, we have 68 votes for the bill. Assuming that Mark Pryor joins the “yes” votes, this leads to a total of 69 votes for the bill. As the confidence intervals around the predicted probabilities of the “lean no” votes intersect 0.5, after excluding Senators Cornyn, Cruz, and Lee, we can reasonably suspect an upper limit of 76 yes votes, though this would be a real far reach.

In March, the data pointed to 67 to 71 yes votes on CIR. Today, after factoring in the border trigger votes and the increased border security measures, the data point to 69 to 76 yes votes. For those who argue that stricter border security measures are necessary for increasing support for the bill, there is some support for this (moving from an upper limit of 71 to 76). However, for others who argue that stricter border security is unnecessary for securing a filibuster-proof vote, there is also support for this (the needle was already at 67 and moved only to 69).

Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego.