Sen. John McCain spent Tuesday shuttling between meetings trying to negotiate an agreement that would allow additional votes on immigration-reform amendments before the Senate casts a final vote on the reform package later this week.

In particular, the Arizona Republican wants to secure a vote on an amendment proposed by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, to strengthen e-verify, employer verification provisions of the Gang of Eight immigration legislation. McCain and Portman have a close working relationship and collaborate on issues from time to time.

Portman wants a stand-alone, up or down vote on his amendment. He would not be satisfied with a roll call vote in which his proposal would be grouped with other proposed changes to the overall immigration bill. If Portman gets his vote, however, and his amendment is adopted, it could mean another Republican vote for the Senate immigration bill.

"I can't support the bill without it," Portman told The Washington Examiner during a brief interview. "And, if it's in there and there aren't other changes to the legislation that makes it less effective, I would be inclined to support the final bill."

Portman, who on Monday voted against advancing the immigration legislation toward a final vote, said he supports the security measures added in an amendment from Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D. But he said border security won't be effective if Congress doesn't eliminate the "jobs magnet" of employment that attracts illegal immigrants to the U.S. Beefing up the e-verify provisions would do that, the senator said.

"I wanted a separate vote on it for the simple reason that it deserves it and that I want to send a strong message to the House because I want to ensure that the House includes it in their package," Portman said. "If there wasn't a separate vote, you would have had a vote on a border surge and not a vote on workplace enforcement."

Here's what McCain had to say about the prospect of the Senate holding more amendment votes before debate on immigration reform wraps up this week:

"We're working like hell to try to make it happen. We're trying to work out agreements where we can get lots of votes and start voting soon, that's our ideal. Whether we will do it or not -- one of two things is going to happen: We're going to start voting on amendments or [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-Nev.] will file cloture," ending debate.

Reid hasn't committed to allowing additional votes on amendments.

"We're working our way through immigration," he said. "We are going to wrap up immigration either Thursday or Friday. The only question now is whether we can come up with a list of amendments. And I think both sides want to do that. But having said that, I don't know if we can do it."


david drucker Senior Congressional Correspondent