In the end, immigration reform really was a done deal in the Senate. Debates come down to numbers on Capitol Hill, and the Gang of Eight reform team had the numbers. Needing 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, they started with the Senate’s 54 Democrats and then added the four Republican Gang members. With 58 votes in the bag, it wasn’t hard to get to 60. So most of the 14 Republicans who ultimately voted for the bill were extras, not needed for passage but helpful to allow the reformers to claim a broad mandate.
From the beginning, many Senate Republicans were terrified of immigration reform. They knew a large part of their base opposed any measure that smelled of “amnesty.” But they were also deeply shaken by last November’s election results, in which Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote. Some GOP strategists, and some Senate colleagues, told them the Republican Party would be finished unless it supported reform.