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Senate turns up pressure on House to tackle immigration reform

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., center, speaks following a vote in the Senate on immigration reform on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. Schumer is joined by, from left, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., D-N.Y., Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The Senate's Gang of 8 has a message for the House: The hopes of millions of illegal immigrants are on your shoulders.

Having just overwhelmingly approved the Gang's comprehensive immigration reform compromise Thursday, Senate leaders began pressuring the House to at least vote on the measure despite House Speaker John Boehner's declaration that the Senate bill is DOA on his side of the Capitol.

"The strong bipartisan vote we took is going to send a message to the country, it's going to send a message to the other end of the Capitol as well," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said following the Senate's 68-32 vote. "This bill has generated a level of support that we believe will be impossible for the House to ignore."

But even within the group of senators leading the charge for the bill, there were two different appeals: "Pass our bill" versus "pass some bill."

Schumer implied that the House should take up the Senate's version of the legislation, telling reporters, "In the coming months, our colleagues in the House will hear a drumbeat of support for our bill. We'll start tomorrow and won't let up. ... It will be unsustainable, in my judgment, for the House to oppose this bill."

Meanwhile, Republican members of the Gang emphasized reconciliation, and encouraged the House to pass some form of reforms that could be a basis for negotiation with the Senate.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who served four terms in the House, said: "To our friends in the House: I understand that you have a different approach. Speak with your voice. Speak in a way that you feel comfortable. Just don't ignore the issue."

Added Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., "We stand ready to sit down and negotiate with you."

Another Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he planned to start calling House members Thursday night to convince them that the Senate version is a strong bill, but added "the best thing was to pass a strong bill by a strong margin."

Flake is among a group of senators who previously served in the House and who expressed sympathy for the challenges the lower chamber will face.

"Having served over there, whenever a good substantive bill comes with significant votes, it's tough to [vote no], particularly this one," Flake said. "There's going to be a lot of pressure,"

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who served 14 years in the House, added: "I hope that the extremes will stay on the side, and that the essence of the center will come together in what will be a great moment for the House and for the country."

Hours before the Senate voted Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, remained tight lipped about what he wants from a House compromise, insisting that his own input would be "the worst thing in the world" for the fortunes of immigration reform. Graham said he had confidence in the Republican leader's approach.

"I think Speaker Boehner should just let the House work its will, let time pass," Graham said. "He'll figure this out."