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Immigration Overhaul Bill Stalls in Senate
That measure was backed by most Democrats, who, along with their trade union allies, have been concerned that a guest-worker program would depress wages and displace Americans from jobs. But four conservative Republicans who had opposed the amendment two weeks ago were pivotal, changing their positions to secure its passage by a single vote -- a move they knew would jeopardize a bill that they had turned firmly against.
"I've been trying to kill it since the beginning," said Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.).
"My preference is to stop it and start again," said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who also switched his vote.
Democratic and Republican negotiators scrambled for the rest of the day to salvage the legislation, drafting lists of amendments to consider that would satisfy conservative opponents of the deal and trying to find a way to undo the guest-worker vote. But each time Reid presented an offer, DeMint and his allies rebuffed it. Their intransigence angered leaders from both parties.
"I've about had it," declared Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.). "I will not be a part of a protracted filibuster. We are not going to let this bill die by endless amendments."
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made a last-ditch offer to try to persuade GOP conservatives to reduce their expansive list of amendments if Reid put off the vote to end debate, but Reid declined.
McConnell, Lott and even Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the bill's chief GOP architect, voted to sustain the filibuster -- a measure of Republicans' frustration with what they saw as heavy-handed Democratic efforts to deprive them of a chance for votes on the floor.
Most of the GOP negotiators, including presidential hopeful John McCain (Ariz.), stuck with the deal and sided with the Democrats.
"The Democrats were wrong" to cut off debate so quickly, said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), another negotiator, "but Republicans were wronger."
In the end, the passions that swept the country, especially among conservatives, after the deal was unveiled last month proved too hard to resist. DeMint said calls to his office were running 99 to 1 against the bill, especially from vociferous opponents of the legalization of immigrants who came here illegally.
"Our neighborhoods across our country have spoken loud and clear, and the United States Senate heard their concerns. This bill is dead," said Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Calif.), a strong opponent of Bush's approach.
Democrats and their allies were never enamored with the deal, either, and the bill had grown more conservative before its defeat. The Senate adopted GOP amendments that would have forced illegal immigrants to disclose information on their legalization applications that originally was to be kept confidential.
Newly legalized workers would not have been eligible for the earned income-tax credit, and they could not have received Social Security benefits they had earned while working illegally. Under one amendment, English could have become the national language, nullifying most rights to government documents in other tongues.
"It's becoming increasingly difficult to support this bill," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a staunch advocate of expanding immigrant rights, shortly before the final tally.
Staff writer Michael Abramowitz contributed to this report.