President Bush, trying to recover from a stinging setback on immigration, will personally try in a visit to the Capitol next week to revive the embattled plan for legalizing millions of unlawful immigrants.
Bush’s scheduled lunch on Tuesday with GOP senators is part of a campaign by the White House and allies in both parties to placate or outmaneuver conservative Republicans who blocked the broad immigration measure this week. They said Friday they would try again to reach accord on the number of amendments the dissidents could offer.
Opponents of the bill promised to continue fighting all such efforts.
Democratic leaders accused Bush of being too tepid in pushing the legislation, which would tighten borders and offer employers more temporary workers from abroad in addition to providing lawful status to an estimated 12 million illegal aliens and putting many of them on a path toward citizenship
Many Republicans defended the president’s role. But the bill’s backers nonetheless welcomed his plan to attend the GOP senators’ weekly luncheon in the Capitol for the first time in five years.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, talking with reporters traveling with Bush in Europe, said the president “continues to be regularly briefed” on the legislation. The administration, she said, is encouraging Reid “to keep the debate open. It’s a very important issue; people want to have conversations about it.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., complained that critics continue to use the word “amnesty” to refer to proposals to legalize immigrants who agreed to pay fines, learn English and, at some point, briefly return to their home countries before obtaining lawful status in the U.S.
“I’ve listened to talk show hosts drumming up the opposition by using this word ‘amnesty’ over and over and over again,” she said. In her 15 years in the Senate, Feinstein said, “I’ve never received more hate or more racist phone calls and threats.”
Groups opposing the bill don’t plan to let up. A group called NumbersUSA said in a statement that while the “amnesty bill . . . may be dead for the year, NumbersUSA members are taking no chances.” They will continue a campaign that has included 750,000 faxes sent in May, and “thousands of phone calls to Congress,” the statement said.
The lawmakers who failed Thursday to win a key vote on the immigration reform bill before the Senate said on Friday that they will continue to push the bill forward and believed they could still find a compromise that would pass.
“We are not giving up. We are not giving in,” Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., told reporters. He is the chief Democrat at the negotiating table for the immigration bill.
“When it is recognized by the American people that the Senate has not acted (on immigration), I believe there is going to be a wave of support for what we have been trying to do,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who also is on the negotiating team.
The bill, which had been widely criticized, died on a procedural motion Thursday night. But Republican Sens. Specter, Jon Kyl, Lindsey Graham and Mel Martinez were all upbeat after a vote to end debate failed 45-50, failing to reach the 60-vote threshold to move toward final passage.
Click here to see how your senator voted on ending the immigration debate. http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=110&session=1&vote=00206
Despite the fact that it was primarily Republicans who voted against the maneuver, all the GOP lawmakers who spoke with FOX News were upbeat that the legislation could be revived soon—even within a matter of weeks, with one negotiator noting that last year’s bill was first pulled from the floor by then-Majority Leader Bill Frist before it was brought back up again and passed.
Graham said he talked extensively with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and is confident the bill will return for senators to take another crack at developing a comprehensive plan to legalize millions of foreigners living unlawfully in the United States.
“I know where the votes are for final passage. . . We’re going to get this done,” Graham said, adding that the topic is not going to go away. “All I can say is, if you name a post office, you’re going to be talking about immigration.”
“There are ways we can do this,” Reid said later. “There can be an agreement on the number of amendments. Hopefully we can do that in the next several weeks. We’re very close.”
Kyl, the chief Republican negotiator, told reporters on Friday that he believed a list of about 10 amendments would satisfy the concerns primarily on his side of the aisle, and that those could be considered in no more than three days on the Senate floor.
White House counselor Dan Bartlett told FOX News that he believed there was still hope for the bill to be revived.
“I think its premature to declare this legislation dead. I know the leadership is still talking. The president urges Sen. Reid to reconsider and work with both Republicans and Democrats and get this bill back on track,” Bartlett said.