Immigration Overhaul Bill Stalls in Senate

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 8, 2007

A tenuous compromise to overhaul the nation's immigration laws collapsed last night when senators from both parties refused to cut off debate and move to a final vote, handing the unlikely alliance of Democratic leaders and President Bush a setback on a major domestic priority.

The defeat came after months of painstaking negotiations and weeks of debate as a 45 to 50 procedural vote fell well short of the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) then pulled the bill from the floor, while holding out hope that the Senate could resurrect the measure within weeks.

"There's no reason to be upset. I think that we have to look toward passing this bill," Reid said after 9 p.m., even as he catalogued a long list of futile efforts at compromise. "It's something that needs to be done."

But he was quick to place responsibility for the defeat on Bush, who had made passage of the measure a top legislative goal. "The headlines are going to be, 'The President Fails Again,' " Reid said. "It's his bill."

With Bush out of the country this week, he left the lobbying on the bill to key aides, including Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez. They watched from Vice President Cheney's ceremonial office just off the Senate chamber last night as the bill stalled.

Thirty-seven Democrats, seven Republicans and independent Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) voted to break the filibuster. Thirty-eight Republicans, 11 Democrats and independent Sen. Bernard Sanders (Vt.) voted against it. Maryland's two Democratic senators voted yes. Virginia's Republican senator, John W. Warner, and its Democratic senator, James Webb, voted no.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said that the issue is far from dead and that administration officials are taking heart from the fact that both Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) indicated they would bring the matter back up for consideration.

"The process has demonstrated that there is a strong bipartisan majority in the United States Senate that wants to see bipartisan, comprehensive reform," Stanzel said. "We will continue to work with members of the United States Senate to address concerns and ensure that we secure our borders, strengthen the interior enforcement, enact a temporary-worker program and address the millions of undocumented workers that are already here in this country."

Legislative advocates also declared the battle not over. "Hope is a powerful thing, and it will not be deterred," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), the deal's chief Democratic negotiator. "The issue will not go away, and we will not give up the fight."

But Democratic leaders were quietly pessimistic. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) said Bush could count on 175 to 180 Democrats to support a similar comprehensive immigration bill in the House, leaving the White House to deliver at least 40 Republicans in a body that has been far more polarized.

"If Bush could not get the votes in the Senate, what was he going to do in the House?" Emanuel asked.

The Senate measure would have coupled tighter border security and a crackdown on the hiring of illegal immigrants with generous new avenues for such immigrants to stay and work legally. But the bipartisan compromise suffered a fatal blow just after midnight yesterday when the Senate voted to end a new guest-worker program after five years.

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