- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Senate immigration bill lost supporters yesterday and hangs on by a thread heading into this morning’s showdown vote, after lawmakers voted down amendments making illegal aliens show roots to get legal status and cutting off their path to citizenship.

This morning’s vote is on a parliamentary question about limiting debate, but it boils down to a vote to block the bill.

Just two days ago, 64 senators voted to revive the bill, with many saying they wanted to give the Senate a chance to improve the bill through amendments. But after a messy day in the chamber yesterday, with dozens of objections, arguments on the floor and five amendments defeated, at least a half-dozen senators said publicly or privately that their patience has run out.

“The way this has been handled, I’m not going to take a leap of faith,” said Sen. Richard M. Burr, North Carolina Republican, who voted to advance the bill on Tuesday but said the way Democratic leaders ran the floor yesterday left no room to “take a bad bill and make it better.”

Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, said he has voted to keep the bill moving a half-dozen times already on “cloture” votes, but yesterday’s debate showed him the bill is probably unsalvageable.

“I’ve given them six or seven cloture votes,” he said. “I think this clay pigeon is becoming a dead duck.”

Mr. Nelson said he wants to see leaders come back with another bill that focuses only on border security, employer verification of workers and a program to bring in new legal foreign workers.

Democratic leaders have said they can deliver about 40 votes for the bill and called on President Bush and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to deliver at least 20 votes. Democrats said if the bill fails, Mr. Bush will get the blame.

The bill was always a precarious balance, a deal between a small group of Republicans and Democrats that didn’t win rave reviews from either side. It survived because of pressure from Mr. Bush and because the group, known as the “grand bargain,” was able to defeat “poison-pill” amendments and push others into the future.

But that future arrived yesterday, as the Senate finally had to address those amendments. It defeated five of them, and each time lost support for the underlying bill from senators who said they needed to see the changes made.

After an amendment from Sen. Robert Menendez to give more priority to family ties in future immigration failed, the New Jersey Democrat said he sees a “right-wing tilt” in the bill and said “it makes it more difficult to vote in favor of invoking cloture on the bill.”

Some opponents define amnesty as the path to citizenship for illegal aliens, while others define it as being able to apply for legal status from within the United States. Amendments to eliminate both of those provisions failed yesterday, costing support of several Republican senators who said they cannot vote for an amnesty.

Also defeated was an effort by Sen. James H. Webb Jr., Virginia Democrat, to eliminate a requirement that illegals must return home before getting a green card but instead make illegal aliens prove they have lived here for four years, have roots and intend to assimilate into the community in order to be legalized.

His proposal failed 18-79, even though it was very similar to the core of the bill that passed the entire Senate last year 62-36.

That vote saw some odd reversals, including Sen. Mel Martinez, Florida Republican and chairman of the Republican National Committee, who was one of the two authors of last year’s compromise but voted against Mr. Webb’s amendment.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, tried to thread the bill through the floor through a technique known as a “clay pigeon,” after the target in skeet shooting. It involves introducing one amendment and then exploding it into a series of amendments, and allows Democrats to block out other amendments.

But that infuriated a small group of Republicans who said they were being shut out of the debate. They spent the day disrupting Mr. Reid’s plans, leaving the chamber at a standstill. Last night, they sensed victory.

“They tried to railroad this through today, but we derailed the train,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican.

Complicating the parliamentary maneuvers even more, the “grand bargain” senators, who had swatted aside all the day’s previous amendments, could not defeat a potential “killer amendment” in the night’s last vote. The proposal would weaken the 2005 Real ID law, which pushes states to issue secure driver’s licenses, a requirement that a majority of senators decided was too burdensome to states.

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, urged senators to overlook the problems he acknowledged might be in the bill and instead vote for it as a signal they are trying to do something. He said opponents should forget about waiting for a bill that will make illegal aliens go home.

“Amnesty, like beauty, may be in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “One thing is plain, and that is the 12 million undocumented immigrants are going to stay in the United States one way or another.”

If the bill survives this morning’s vote, senators would then turn to about 20 other amendments, including one to loosen the requirements on businesses to verify their employees’ work status and another from Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, that would issue new Social Security cards with a photo and biometric information.

“We’re at make or break time. In the next few days, we’ll know if we’re going to finally overhaul our broken immigration system,” Mr. Schumer said.

Some Hispanic groups and union leaders pleaded with senators not to give up.

“Failure is not acceptable,” said Cecilia Munoz, a vice president at the National Council of La Raza. “The choice is between acting and not acting. For the Latino community, the only option is to act.”

Not all senators consider this morning’s vote the key showdown, and say if the bill survives, there are other chances to defeat it.

Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, said he plans to vote to proceed with the debate, but expects another 60-vote showdown on another parliamentary maneuver, known as a “point of order.” Mr. Coleman said if the bill is not changed to his liking by then, he could join in voting to block it.

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