Supporters of U.S. immigration reform are hoping that the smooth and drama-free passage of their legislation through a Senate committee — a departure from almost everything that has happened in Congress over the past four years — will boost the likelihood of the bill winning full Senate approval.
Even Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee who voted against the immigration bill on Tuesday, told Reuters TV that the "very fair" debate by the panel "does improve its chances."
But a tentative deal on a companion bill in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives was in danger of unraveling on Wednesday. Partisanship raged behind closed doors in the House, where a group of eight Republicans and Democrats were trying to save a tentative deal they announced last Thursday.
The main sticking point, according to congressional aides and immigration reform advocates, was over prohibitions on federal healthcare for 11 million undocumented immigrants as they transition to legal resident and then permanent resident status under the legislation.
The Senate bill will go to the floor in June, after a Memorial Day holiday recess. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 late on Tuesday with support from three Republicans to approve the biggest changes in immigration policy in a generation, including putting 11 million illegal residents on a path to citizenship.
Bipartisan spirit may have flourished in the Senate committee for several reasons.
The debate was never choked off, giving opponents full opportunity to air their grievances and present their amendments. Polls show strong support throughout the United States for comprehensive immigration reform.
And the committee included two Republican members of the "Gang of Eight" that drafted the legislation, with Republicans inspired in part by the drubbing their 2012 presidential contender, Mitt Romney, took from Hispanics who voted overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama.
The two committee Republicans teamed up with Democrats to fend off amendments to significantly weaken the bill's aims and give the legislation a bipartisan banner.
The Judiciary Committee's five long days of open meetings to debate and amend the measure were a rare example of bipartisan cooperation in a normally deadlocked and acrimonious Congress, which, apart from deficit-reduction bills, has not enacted anything of comparable scope since the 2010 mid-term elections, when Republicans won control of the U.S. House.