ShareThis Page
Nation

Immigration overhaul derailed

| Saturday, April 8, 2006

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 Congress.

"Politics got ahead of policy on this," lamented Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, 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, R-Ariz., who earlier had estimated that more than 60 senators favor the measure. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Philadelphia, 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 elections.

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 performance.

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 amendments.

"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 leader.

"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 supported.

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. Texas Sen. John Cornyn 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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me