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.