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Snubbing the White House, Without Snubbing the White House

Cloture nay-sayers, from left, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).
Cloture nay-sayers, from left, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

Debate to us belongs!

Today will your legacy test!

As it happens, this was not the first doggerel to grace the Senate immigration debate. Reid kicked things off Wednesday morning by invoking a passage from Dr. Seuss:

" That is good," said the fish.

"He's gone away, yes.

But your mother will come.

She will find this big mess."

"Some would say that is what we have in the Senate today -- a big mess," the majority leader explained. "But if you go back and read Dr. Seuss, the cat manages to clean up the mess, and as big of a mess as we have with immigration in the United States, we have the opportunity to clean up a big mess."

Ah, but the Cat in the Hat did not have to contend with cloture.

For Senate conservatives seeking to defeat the immigration compromise, the fight against cloture provides an alternative to disparaging President Bush, who vigorously supports the legislation. Bush has accused fellow conservatives who oppose the bill of using "empty political rhetoric" and trying to "frighten people."

In the House, conservatives have attacked Bush directly. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) held a news conference Wednesday to dispute Bush's "claims of scare-mongering." At the meeting, Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said Bush would "rather disparage the motives than look at the factual questions."

At the Republican presidential debate this week, Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.) declared that, if elected president, he would tell Bush never to "darken the doorstep of the White House." Even Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the No. 2 Republican in the House, called Bush's words "unhelpful and uncalled for."

Senate Republicans were more discreet about Bush, even as Reid attempted to taunt the president for his failure to sway Republican votes.

"If the president has any clout at all within his own Senate Republican delegation, shouldn't he be pushing to have Republicans vote for this?" he asked at a news conference yesterday. Reid said he called Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and told him, "The headlines are going to be, 'The President Fails Again.' It's his bill. It's not our bill."

A reporter pointed out that 14 Democrats voted against cloture; several are seeking to derail the compromise.

"Let's not focus on Democrats," Reid said. "Tell me about the Republicans."

There was not much to tell, except that they were vying for new ways to vilify cloture. Hutchison was "most certainly, strongly against cloture" and, under the circumstances, "could never vote for cloture." Sessions lamented the symptoms of "premature cloture."

"We've had in this Congress so far 36 clotures," McConnell complained after yesterday's first two cloture votes failed. "That compares with 13 in the last Congress at this point, nine in the previous Congress at this point and only two in the Congress before that at this point."

Reid answered with some statistics of his own. "Last year," he said, "we had 23 roll-call votes prior to cloture" in addition to 11 "post-cloture."

Interest groups tried to join the cloture game by e-mailing statements:

"SEIU Supports Cloture."

"ACORN Urges Senate No Vote on Cloture."

"LCCR Letter in Support of Cloture."

At nightfall, Reid made good on his promise to bring up poor, long-suffering cloture for another vote. Once again, to nobody's surprise, cloture took a lopsided beating -- and so, at least for now, did any prospect of closure on immigration.

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