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Jun 21, 2013 No Comments ›› Jake Hammer

Excerpted from THE HILL

Senate negotiators achieved a major breakthrough this week by hammering out a deal to double the number of border patrol agents, but they are still short their goal of 70 votes in favor of a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

The agreement, which also authorizes the construction of 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, secured the votes of two more Republicans, Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.) and John Hoeven (N.D.).

But Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the lead Democratic sponsor of the bill, said Friday that supporters are still short of the 70-vote target.

“We’re not there yet,” he said on the Senate floor. “We’re climbing each day, but we’re not there yet. But I think we will get there.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) admitted Friday that he did not think Schumer’s 70-vote goal for final passage of the bill was realistic. He said Schumer was the only one who thought it was possible.

“No one, no one [of] 100 senators; no one other than the senator from New York thought we could get 70 votes,” said Reid. “I doubted he could get 70 votes. He knows I doubted that. No one in this body thought we could get 68, 72 votes except him.”

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who, with Schumer, are members of the Gang of Eight, also held out the 70-vote mark as a goal.

Schumer acknowledged them on Friday.

“The other seven members of the Gang of Eight, we have come to become friends. We have argued with each other, we have bonded with each other, but most of all we are united in this effort to make our nation better by fixing our broken immigration system,” he said.

“There were others who thought I could help put together a proposal that would get 70 votes,” he added.

Graham predicted on Sunday that the bill would pass with more than 70 votes.

“I’ve never been more optimistic about it,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

McCain said Thursday he was not sure whether the bill would attract the support of 70 senators.

The Senate will vote Thursday to end debate on the bill, and the vote on final passage is likely to occur later that day.