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Senate revives illegal-alien bill

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES The Senate voted Tuesday to resurrect its immigration bill, overcoming opposition from conservative Republicans and setting up a week of showdown votes on amendments and passage.

The vote was 64-35 to revive the bill, four more than the 60 needed, but many senators said they may change their minds and vote to block the measure in the next key test, scheduled for Thursday. Overcoming a blockade would again require 60 votes.

Still, Tuesday was a victory for President Bush, who delivered 24 Republican votes to keep the bill alive and give it a fighting chance of surviving the week.

"Two weeks ago, people were saying that this bill was dead, and here we are today getting ready to move on to a debate," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said after the vote, adding he is "confident of Senate passage."

But passage is far from a sure bet, and Tuesday's 64 votes may be a high-water mark for the bill.

There are at least a dozen senators who have said that their "Yes" vote Tuesday was simply to begin the debate, and that they could vote to block the bill through a filibuster vote, or vote against it on final passage.

Most of them say they need to see changes in the bill before they will give it approval.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, has said if his amendment to exclude illegal aliens from the path to citizenship fails to pass, he will vote to block the bill. Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, likewise said he wants passage of his amendment to have local police be able to share information about illegal aliens with immigration authorities.

And from the Democratic side, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Sen. James H. Webb Jr. of Virginia said they will evaluate the bill before Thursday's vote to decide whether they will join in efforts to block it. Both men also have amendments they want to see passed.

Those amendments are now part of what's called a "clay pigeon" — a parliamentary maneuver that takes its name from the target in skeet shooting.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, combined 27 amendments into a single package in an effort to get around opponents' objections. The clay pigeon aspect means Mr. Reid can later divide the amendment out into its 27 parts, and each receives a vote.

But the way Mr. Reid is using it, he is also blocking out any other amendments.

The Senate even shut down for a time Tuesday afternoon because the nearly 400-page package wasn't finished. Some Republican aides charged Democrats were still trying to barter for votes by promising last-minute changes to the amendments.

Among the amendments most dangerous to the bill's passage are one that would loosen the requirements on businesses to verify their workers, which passed last year overwhelmingly but which the administration said would gut the bill this year; one to make illegal aliens have to show roots to be eligible for the path to citizenship; and several to try to expand family migration.

In Tuesday's vote 39 Democrats, 24 Republicans and one independent supported reviving the bill, while 25 Republicans, nine Democrats and one independent voted to block it. The Republicans' top three leaders all voted to bring the bill back, over the opposition of a slim majority of Republicans.

Two Republicans — Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — appeared so eager to revive the bill they initially voted the wrong way on a previous labor union rights vote, before catching themselves and switching.

Even if the bill survives the Senate this week, the House may be a bigger challenge for Mr. Bush, who faces a full-scale revolt in his own party on the issue.

House Republicans voted 114-23 yesterday to pass a resolution disapproving of the Senate bill, a stark move that sends a signal to Mr. Bush, House Democrats and Senate Republicans.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said he gave a "heads-up" to the White House that the vote was coming and "they weren't happy about it."

But Republicans said they needed to make a statement to distance themselves from the bill, which they fear could be labeled a "Republican" bill because of the support of Mr. Bush and Senate Republicans.

"This is not a Republican bill. The House Republicans don't want to be associated with this bill, and are opposed to it," said Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican.

In the Senate, some Republicans fear the same thing.

Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina said Tuesday's parliamentary maneuvering proves this bill belongs to Mr. Reid.

"He used his power as majority leader to manipulate and abuse the rules of the Senate to ram this bill down our throats," Mr. DeMint said.

Mr. Reid, though, said Mr. Bush and Mr. McConnell agreed to the tactic, which he said has been used before.

"I would not have considered employing it in this instance without the full support of Senator McConnell," Mr. Reid wrote in a letter earlier this week, adding, "the White House made clear that it also favors such a procedure, since the immigration bill is one of President Bush's top priorities."

c S.A. Miller contributed to this report.