In the Capitol, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., chose to deliver a speech on the immigration measure in Spanish. He said it was appropriate to do so since the language "has been spoken in this country since Spanish missionaries founded St. Augustine, Florida in 1565. Spanish is also spoken by almost 40 million Americans who have a lot at stake in the outcome of this debate," he said in an English translation provided by his office.
Taken together, the two procedural votes had the effect of placing the bill formally before the Senate and open for amendments. Both drew more than 80 votes, reflecting a bipartisan desire to have the debate that now is expected to consume three weeks.
Substantively, an early skirmish took shape over a proposal by Cruz' fellow Texan, Sen. John Cornyn. It would permit the legalization process to begin, but require several changes before anyone currently in the country illegally could receive a green card that confers permanent legal residence.
Those changes include apprehension of at least 90 percent of those seeking to cross into the United States at every segment of the Southern border, implementation of a biometric exit system at all air and sea ports of entry and a nationwide E-Verify system to check the legal status of prospective employees.
Democratic supporters of the legislation have deemed Cornyn's plan a "poison pill," designed to wreck the bill's chances for passage instead of enhance them. But the Texan told reporters he had some leverage to force changes, if nothing else.
"I think if they had 60 votes to pass a bill out of the Senate they probably wouldn't be talking to me. And they are," Cornyn said of majority Democrats.
As the Senate embarked on a debate expected to last for weeks, Speaker John Boehner said he hoped companion legislation could clear committee in the House by the end of the month.
In an ABC interview, the Ohio Republican sidestepped when asked if he is prepared to support a pathway to citizenship for those living in the country illegally. "A lot of these big questions will be decided on the House floor," he said.
In the Senate, McConnell sounded a similar note.
"The Gang of Eight has done its work," he said, referring to the four senators from each party that crafted the basic bill. "Now it's time for the Gang of 100 to do its work."