The on-again-off-again immigration bill took a fatal blow yesterday as a majority of senators voted to block it, responding to millions of e-mails, phone calls and faxes from voters furious over a measure they saw as amnesty.
The vote to block the bill was 53-46 — a crushing defeat given that supporters fell 14 votes shy of the 60 needed to limit debate and set an up-or-down vote. It also represents a major loss of support from just two days earlier, when 64 senators had voted to resurrect the bill from its first defeat three weeks ago.
“The message is crystal clear that the American people want us to start with enforcement, both at the border and at the workplace, and don’t want promises,” said Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican. “They want action, they want results, they want proof because they’ve heard all the promises before.”
It was a devastating defeat for President Bush, who invested a tremendous amount of political capital into immigration reform.
Despite teaming with Democrats, attacking some of his own staunchest supporters, deploying two Cabinet secretaries and much of his top policy hierarchy nearly full time to the Capitol and making calls himself, Mr. Bush was unable to secure victory and is now left without a major domestic accomplishment for his second term.
“A lot of us worked hard to see if we couldn’t find a common ground. It didn’t work,” Mr. Bush said.
In yesterday’s vote, 33 Democrats, 12 Republicans and one independent voted to proceed with the bill, while 37 Republicans, 15 Democrats and one independent voted to block it.
The bill was always hanging in precarious balance, written in backroom negotiations by a small group of Democrats and Republicans with the help of the Bush administration. It involved a trade — the Republicans agreed to a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens in the country, and the Democrats agreed to a temporary-worker program for future workers and to rewrite the immigration system to favor those with needed skills or education.
But concerns over amnesty, fears that a new guest-worker program would harm U.S. workers and a lack of confidence in the Bush administration to enforce stricter laws piled up.
Opponents pointed to an evaluation by the Congressional Budget Office that said the bill would only reduce future illegal entries by about 25 percent and said the new guest-worker program would actually lead to hundreds of thousands of new illegal aliens from workers overstaying their job permits.
Senate Democratic leaders said they may try again later this year, but Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat, who was charged with crafting a House bill, said yesterday’s vote “effectively ends comprehensive immigration-reform efforts in the 110th Congress.”
She said the House will instead see if there are small bills that can be passed to try to improve the current system. Many Republicans encouraged that approach, urging both chambers to turn their attention to the $4.4 billion in spending Mr. Bush said was needed to secure the borders.
In the meantime, Mr. Bush’s Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he will keep enforcing the law, including continuing to hire 18,300 border patrol agents, build 370 miles of fencing along the 1,950-mile U.S.-Mexico border and erect watchtowers to fill out the “virtual fence.”
“You will continue to see heart-wrenching examples of families being pulled apart because I have an obligation to enforce the law, whether it’s painful to do or whether it’s pleasurable to do,” he said. “But in order to regain the credibility with the American people that has been squandered over 30 years, we’re going to have to be tough.”
Senators repeatedly talked about pressure from voters swaying the day.View Entire Story
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