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1579Immigration Overhaul Obstacle May Be Fatal

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  • Greg Cannon
    Apr 7, 2006
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      Immigration Overhaul Obstacle May Be Fatal

      By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent 44 minutes ago

      WASHINGTON - Landmark legislation offering eventual
      citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants suffered
      a potentially fatal blow Friday in the Senate, the
      latest in a series of election-year setbacks for
      President Bush and the Republicans who control

      "Politics got ahead of policy on this," lamented Sen.
      Edward M. Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), D-Mass.
      an evenhanded assessment that belied the partisan
      recriminations from all sides.

      Hailed as a bipartisan breakthrough less than 24 hours
      earlier, the bill fell victim to internal disputes in
      both parties as well as to bewildering political
      maneuvering. On the key vote, only 38 senators, all
      Democrats, lined up in support. That was 22 short of
      the 60 needed, and left the legislation in limbo as
      lawmakers left the Capitol for a two-week break.

      Supporters of the measure expressed hope for its
      resurrection, particularly with large public
      demonstrations planned over the next several days. "We
      have an agreement. It's not going away," said Sen.
      John McCain (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz., who
      earlier had estimated more than 60 senators favor the
      measure. Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting
      record), R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary
      Committee, pledged to have legislation ready for
      debate in the Senate within two weeks of the
      lawmakers' return.

      Majority Leader Bill Frist, his party plagued by
      divisions, stopped short of a commitment to bring
      another immigration bill to the floor by year's end.
      "I intend to," the Tennessee Republican said, but
      added it would depend on the schedule, already crowded
      with other legislation.

      The gridlock over immigration legislation capped an
      exceptionally trying week for Republicans, who face
      unexpectedly stiff challenges from Democrats for
      control of the House and Senate in the midterm

      House GOP leaders abruptly put off plans Thursday to
      vote on a budget for the coming year when leaders
      concluded they lacked a majority. The House-Senate
      leadership also gave up hopes of clearing a tax cut
      before the April 17 tax filing deadline.

      An Associated Press-Ipsos poll showed Bush's public
      support at new lows for his handling of
      Iraq and the war on terror as well as overall job

      And former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, under
      indictment in Texas and linked to disgraced lobbyist
      Jack Abramoff, announced plans to resign and then
      blasted his own party's performance. "We don't have an
      agreed agenda — breaking up our leadership has taken
      its toll," he told one group of reporters.

      The immigration bill would have provided for stronger
      border security, regulated the future entry of foreign
      workers and created a complex new set of regulations
      for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country
      illegally. Officials said an estimated nine million of
      them, those who could show they had been in the United
      States for more than two years, would eventually
      become eligible for citizenship under the proposal.

      Frist accused Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic
      leader, of "putting a stranglehold" on the Senate by
      refusing to permit votes on more than three Republican

      "It's not gone forward because there's a political
      advantage for Democrats not to have an immigration
      bill," asserted Specter.

      Reid and others swiftly rebutted the claim. But
      Kennedy, who had seemed more eager than the Nevadan
      all week to find a compromise, declined several
      chances to offer a strong defense of his party's

      "I respect Bill Frist but his position on this matter
      simply defies logic. ... He needed the courage to move
      forward," said Reid.

      And Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, second-ranking
      Democrat, said late Thursday night it would be "game,
      set, match over" if Republicans failed to put up
      enough votes to advance the bill their leader

      Republicans, including those who favored the
      immigration bill, decided in advance they would cast
      protest votes to emphasize their opposition to Reid's
      tactics. The Democratic leader has prevented votes on
      all but a few non-controversial amendments since
      debate began on the bill more than a week ago. Sen.
      John Cornyn (news, bio, voting record) of Texas and
      other opponents expressed frustration that they were
      unable to gain votes on proposals to toughen
      enforcement or to leave immigration policy unchanged
      until the border had been made secure.

      All week, internal party divisions were on unusual
      public display.

      Frist, a potential presidential contender for 2008,
      initially advanced a bill largely limited to border
      security. He then embraced Bush's concept of a broader
      measure including provisions relating to illegal
      immigrants. But in doing so, he left behind GOP
      conservatives. Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay Bailey
      Hutchison of Texas, both members of the leadership,
      openly opposed the bill. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky
      and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the second and
      third-ranking members of the leadership, played modest
      roles in the public debate.

      Kyl as well as Cornyn, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and
      others criticized the bill as an amnesty measure for

      Democrats had their own divisions, principally between
      Kennedy and others who favored negotiating a
      compromise and those who were more reluctant.

      Reid seemed to vacillate, signaling opposition to an
      emerging compromise Wednesday night, then joining
      Frist at a news conference on Thursday to say an
      agreement was within grasp. Then, within hours, he
      insisted that Frist tell conservatives their ability
      to seek changes would be severely limited.

      In private as well as public, Reid and Sen. Charles
      Schumer (news, bio, voting record) of New York, who
      heads the party's campaign effort, said they did not
      want to expose rank-and-file Democrats to votes that
      would force them to choose between border security and
      immigrant rights, only to wind up with legislation
      that would be eviscerated in future negotiations with
      the House.

      Outside the Senate, several Democratic strategists
      concluded that the best politics was to allow the bill
      to die, leaving Republicans with a failed initiative
      in the Senate at a time when the GOP in the House had
      passed a measure making illegal immigrants subject to
      felony charges.