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|Posted June 29, 2007|
Immigration Bill Fails to Survive Senate Vote
Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
|Day laborers from the Washington area gathers in the Senate to wait for the results of the immigration cloture vote.|
By ROBERT PEAR
and CARL HULSE
WASHINGTON, June 28 President Bushs effort to overhaul the nations immigration policy, a cornerstone of his domestic agenda, collapsed in the Senate today, with little hope that it can be revived before Mr. Bush leaves office in January 2009.
The bill called for the biggest changes to immigration law in more than 20 years, offering legal status to millions of illegal immigrants while trying to secure the nations borders. But the Senate, forming blocs that defied party affiliation, could never unite on the legislations key provisions. Rejecting the presidents last-minute pleas, it voted 53 to 46 to turn back a motion to end debate and move toward final passage. Supporters fell 14 votes short of the 60 needed to close debate.
Mr. Bush placed telephone calls to lawmakers throughout the morning, but members of his party abandoned him in droves, with only 12 of the 49 Senate Republicans sticking by him on the key procedural vote that determined the bills fate. Nearly one-third of Senate Democrats voted, in effect, to block action on the bill.
The bill called for the biggest changes in immigration law in more than 20 years. The vote followed an outpouring of criticism from conservatives and others who decried it as a form of amnesty for lawbreakers. The outcome was a bitter disappointment for Mr. Bush and other supporters of a comprehensive approach, including Hispanic and church groups, and employers who had been seeking greater access to foreign workers.
Both supporters and opponents said the measure was dead for the remainder of the Bush administration, although it is conceivable that individual pieces might be revived.
The vote reflected the degree to which Congress and the nation are polarized over the issue of immigration. The emotional end to what had been an emotional debate was evident today, with a few senior staff members who had invested months in writing the bill near tears at the result. The bill now dies, said Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who helped write the measure.
The outcome also underscored the challenge that Mr. Bush faces in exerting authority and enacting an agenda at a time when members of his own party increasingly break with him and the Democrats no longer fear him. Having already given up on other ambitious second-term plans like overhauling Social Security, the White House has little prospect of winning any big new legislative achievements in the final 19 months of Mr. Bushs tenure.
But the collapse also highlighted the difficulties that the new Democratic leadership in Congress has had in showing that it can address the big problems facing the nation. In this case, Democratic leaders asserted that the failure of the immigration bill was a reflection on Mr. Bushs issue and not on their party.
Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, who helped lead opposition to the bill, said: The proponents did not get even a simple majority. The message is crystal-clear. The American people want us to start with enforcement at the border and at the workplace and dont want promises. They want action, they want results, they want proof, because theyve heard all the promises before.
In voting to end debate, the 12 Republicans were joined by 33 Democrats and 1 independent. Voting against the motion to end debate were 15 Democrats, 1 independent and 37 Republicans, including the minority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
I had hoped for a bipartisan accomplishment, Mr. McConnell said. What we got was a bipartisan defeat.
Among the Democrats voting no were several up for re-election next year, including Senators Max Baucus of Montana, Tom Harkin of Iowa and John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said that Mr. Bush had tried to round up votes, but that there just was not enough Republican support for the presidents approach.
Mr. Bush, in Rhode Island for a visit to the Naval War College, said: Legal immigration is one of the top concerns of the American people, and Congresss failure to act on it is a disappointment. A lot of us worked hard to see if we couldnt find common ground. It didnt work.
In the end, many of the groups who had supported pieces of the bill urged the Senate to pass it in the hope that it could be improved in the House.
Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, who is chairwoman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, said: The Senate vote effectively kills comprehensive immigration reform for this Congress. Its a vote for the status quo, which most Americans are not satisfied with.
Supporters of the bill agreed with opponents on one point: Many Americans believe that the government lacks the ability to carry out the huge responsibilities it would have had under the bill.
People look out and they see the failures of government, whether its Hurricane Katrina or the inability to get enough passports out for people, and they say, How is the government going to accomplish all of this? Ms. Feinstein said.
Opponents of the bill were elated. Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said: The American people won today. They care enough for their country to get mad and to fight for it. Americans made phone calls and sent letters, and convinced the Senate to stop this bill.
Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, a leading opponent of the bill, said that talk radio was a big factor in derailing the immigration bill.
Supporters of the bill wanted to pass it quickly, before Rush Limbaugh could tell the American people what was in it, Mr. Sessions said.
But Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the chief Democratic architect of the bill, said that many senators had voted their fears, not their hopes.
Referring to opponents of the bill, Mr. Kennedy said: We know what they dont like. What are they for? What are they going to do with the 12 million who are undocumented here? Send them back to countries around the world? Develop a type of Gestapo here to seek out these people that are in the shadows? Whats their alternative?
Without a new immigration law, Mr. Kennedy said, The situation is going to get worse and worse and worse. Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, National, of Friday, June 29, 2007.
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