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
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
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
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