A fragile bipartisan compromise that would legalize millions of unlawful immigrants suffered a setback Thursday when it failed a test vote in the Senate, leaving its prospects uncertain.
Still, the measure—a top priority for President Bush that’s under attack from the right and left—won a brief reprieve when Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would give it more time before yanking the bill and moving on to other matters.
His decision set the stage for yet another procedural vote later Thursday that will measure lawmakers’ appetite for a so-called “grand bargain” between liberals and conservatives on immigration.
If that fails, Reid threatened, “The bill’s over with.”
By a vote of 33-63, the Senate fell far short of the 60 votes that would have been needed to limit debate on the immigration measure and put it on a path to passage. Republicans—even those who helped craft the measure and are ultimately expected to support it—banded together to oppose that move, while a majority of Democrats backed it. Fifteen Democrats and Independent Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, who is usually allied with their party, voted “no.”
Republicans were seeking assurances they would get chances to add several conservative-backed changes that would toughen the measure.
But even some Republicans said they were getting impatient with members of their own party who were balking at finishing the bill.
“I’m telling them, too, I’ve about had it. Enough is enough here now. We’re going to get some more amendments,” said Sen. Trent Lott, R- Miss. “We’re going to do this damn thing.”
Proponents in both parties were scrambling to find a way of reversing a blow their compromise sustained earlier Thursday, when the Senate voted to phase out the bill’s temporary worker program after five years.
The 49-48 vote just after midnight on making the temporary worker program itself temporary came two weeks after the Senate, also by a one-vote margin, rejected an earlier attempt by Sen. Byron Dorgan to end the program after five years. The North Dakota Democrat says immigrants take many jobs Americans could fill.
Dorgan’s success dismayed backers of the immigration bill, which is loathed by many conservatives.
Also Thursday, the Senate rejected a conservative-backed amendment that would have allowed Congress to block the legalization of millions of unlawful immigrants if it deemed the border too porous.
The vote was 42-54 on an amendment by conservative Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Jim DeMint, R-S.C., that would have required a congressional vote to certify that border security and workplace enforcement “triggers” were in place before the legalization or the new guest worker program could take effect.