WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted Tuesday to advance a landmark immigration bill, clearing away the first procedural hurdle in front of legislation opening the door to citizenship for millions.
The 82-15 vote was the first cast by the full Senate on the far-reaching bill that's a top priority for President Barack Obama. A second procedural vote set for later Tuesday would officially open debate on the measure.
Hours earlier Obama appeared at the White House to prod Congress to send him a bill by fall.
"Congress needs to act, and that moment is now, " Obama said, surrounded by immigration advocates, business and religious leaders, law enforcement officials and others in the East Room of the White House.
"There's no reason Congress can't get this done by the end of the summer," the president said. "There's no good reason to play procedural games or engage in obstruction just to block the best chance we've had in years to address this problem in a way that's fair to middle class families, business owners and legal immigrants."
Despite the lopsided tally in the Senate many Republicans made clear that they would require significant changes to the bill written by a so-called Gang of Eight -- four Republican and four Democratic senators -- to be able to support it on final passage, particularly in the area of border security.
"The Gang of Eight has done its work. Now it's time for the Gang of 100 to do its work -- for the entire Senate to have its say on this issue, and see if we can do something to improve the status quo," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "At the risk of stating the obvious, this bill has serious flaws."
The measure would boost border security and workplace enforcement, allow tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled workers into the country, and create a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.
Ahead of the votes, senators were readying amendments on contentious issues including border security, back taxes and health care coverage. Some Republicans said they were seeking to strengthen enforcement provisions so that they could be comfortable voting for the bill. Other GOP measures were already being dismissed by Democrats as attempts to kill the bill by striking at the fragile compromises at its core.
Earlier in the day House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, made his most positive comments to date on the issue, saying he thinks there's a good chance that legislation can be signed into law "by the end of the year." Boehner said he hopes for committee action by the end of June.
"I believe that it's important for the House to work its will on this issue," Boehner said on ABC's "Good Morning America." `'And I would expect that a House bill will be to the right of where the Senate is."