The U.S. Senate blocked passage of comprehensive immigration legislation, almost certainly ending chances Congress will act this year on the centerpiece of President George W. Bush’s domestic agenda.
Supporters got just 46 of the 60 votes needed to conclude debate and proceed to final passage. Fifty-three senators, including 37 of Bush’s fellow Republicans, voted against cutting off debate.
Today’s vote makes it unlikely the House of Representatives would act on immigration. House Republicans voted 114-23 this week to adopt a resolution disapproving of the Senate measure.
Amnesty for Lawbreakers
Republicans said the legislation didn’t do enough to prevent illegal immigration and would give amnesty to those who entered the country illegally. They weren’t persuaded to support the measure by Bush’s endorsement of a plan to add $4.4 billion to improve border security and control illegal immigration.
Senate supporters of the measure vowed they would not give up. “We will be back,” Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy said. “This issue isn’t going to go away and we will succeed.”
Today’s vote came three weeks after Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, pulled the measure off the Senate floor when supporters lost a similar procedural vote to limit debate. The measure was revived after a bipartisan group agreed on a package of some two dozen amendments that would be voted on.
Eighteen senators switched their position from a June 7 vote when the Senate voted 64-35 to resume debate on the measure.
Opponents of the legislation had criticized a limit on amendments and used procedural tactics to delay its consideration. Today they said their stalling tactics helped sway some senators.
“In terms of personal conversations with some individual senators who were on the bubble or even supporters of the bill, they came up to me and others and said this process really wasn’t fair to us,” Louisiana Republican David Vitter said.
[Editors Note: The breakdown of how the vote went by party, age, state, or even astrological sign can be found here.]
In a crucial make or break vote that exposed deep lack of support among Bush’s own Republicans, the legislation fell 14 votes short of the 60 needed in the 100-member Senate to advance toward a final vote.
Supporters of the bill, which was the result of months of negotiations between a group of Republican and Democratic senators and the White House, were dismayed by the vote.
Bush has sought an overhaul of US immigration laws for years and this bill may have been his last chance for a significant domestic legislative victory before leaving office at the end of his second term in January 2009.
The president was unable to overcome fierce opposition from fellow Republicans who said it was an amnesty for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country and would do little to stem illegal immigration.
Even the promise of an additional $4.4 billion (2.2 billion pounds) to pay for more border security and enforcement did not quell Republican opposition.
The bill failed to garner even a simple majority. Only 46 senators—33 Democrats, 12 Republicans and 1 independent—voted to advance the bill. Some 15 Democrats joined 37 Republicans and 1 independent to block the legislation.
Senate leaders have said it would be difficult if not impossible to revive the bill again before the November 2008 presidential election. Immigration has already become an issue in the election campaign.
The bill tied tough border security and workplace enforcement measures to a plan to legalize illegal immigrants and create a temporary worker program sought by business groups. It also would have created a new merit-based system for future immigrants.
The bill was also opposed by some labour unions, who said its temporary worker program would have created an underclass of cheap labourers. Immigrant groups opposed measures in the bill that limited migration on the basis of family ties.
Republican opponents of the bill said Bush should give up on broad immigration reform and concentrate on keeping illegal immigrants out.
“The next step is to immediately push the president to take up his word and enforce security at the border,” said Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican who help lead the fight against the bill.