(CBS News) Sen. Kelly Ayotte will support the comprehensive immigration reform bill expected on the Senate floor this week, the New Hampshire Republican announced Sunday on "Face the Nation," heaving the legislation past the 60-vote threshold that shields it from a GOP filibuster.
"I've looked at this very carefully," Ayotte said. "Our immigration system is completely broken; we've got 11 million people living in this country illegally and in the shadows. We have a legal immigration system that isn't meeting our needs to grow the economy. And so I looked at this carefully, this is a thoughtful bipartisan solution to a tough problem and so that's why I'm going to support it."
Ayotte called the bill's most controversial tenet - a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants - a "tough but fair way for them to earn citizenship: Go to the back of the line, pay taxes, pass a criminal background check, learn English."
With Democrats and independents adding up to 54 likely "yea" votes, six is the magic number of Republicans needed to get the bill through the Senate. Expected to join Ayotte on the right are the four GOP members of the "gang of eight" senators who crafted the legislation - Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. - and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who voted the bill out of the Judiciary Committee last week.
The "gang" has said it hopes to collect as many as 70 votes in the Senate before moving the bill over to the House, and President Obama on Saturdaythat there's "no reason" lawmakers can't get an immigration bill on his desk by "the end of the summer."
Even with Ayotte's backing, though, the legislation's path forward remains uphill: Rubio - who as recently as Friday said 60 votes weren't there yet - has warned that the floor debate must churn out increased border security provisions if it hopes to pass muster among conservatives in both the Senate and the House. And though Hatch made a deal to pass the bill through committee, he hasn't committed to voting it into law.
Procedural votes to begin a weeks-long debate on the bill are scheduled on the Senate floor Tuesday, the same day Mr. Obama is slated to deliver immigration remarks. On the House side, members of the chamber's "group of 8" working on their own version of immigration reform emerged fromWednesday on a comprehensive bill.