The immigration “grand bargain” imploded in the Senate last night under a Republican filibuster as both parties dug in on matters of procedure and amendments.
The key test vote came last night on a motion to end debate and go to a vote on the merits of the bill. It couldn’t even get a majority of senators, losing a 50-45 vote, 15 votes short of the 60 needed to break the filibuster.
Sources said Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, will leave open the possibility of bringing the bill back up later this year, but for now it is a crushing end to President Bush’s highest current domestic priority — and one of the few areas he said was ripe for bipartisan agreement.
“The headline is going to be ‘Democrats vote for the bill, Republicans vote against it, the president fails again,’ ” Mr. Reid said, adding that he could not allow Republicans to take any more time on the bill because he needed to move on to other issues.
Next up for the Senate is a Democrat-driven, nonbinding vote of no-confidence in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who is the highest-ranking Hispanic in the Bush administration.
Republicans said that if Mr. Reid had waited another day, he might have had an immigration agreement.
“A little more patience by Harry could pay dividends,” Minority Whip Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said just before the evening vote that marked the second Democratic effort to break the filibuster. The first lost on a lopsided 63-33 vote, 27 votes short of what was needed.
The “grand bargain” was the result of closed-door negotiations between a small bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans and the Bush administration. The bill they produced offered a path to citizenship to most illegal aliens in exchange for promises of better enforcement, creation of a temporary-worker program, and rewriting the immigration system to give priority to those with needed skills.
But it was always a tenuous deal, opposed by liberals for being too harsh on illegal aliens and conservatives for being too lenient.
Republicans complained Democrats were shutting them out from offering enough amendments, and a filibuster was their only option.
Mr. Reid blamed the administration for not doing more to convince Republicans to vote for the bill. He said he called Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff late Wednesday night to plead with him to try to break Republicans’ unified deadlock — a plea he made from the Senate floor several times yesterday.
“Could the president deliver at least a vote,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, told reporters early in the day, after the initial failure to cut off debate.
Last night, both Mr. Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez came to the Capitol to huddle with Republicans, but they weren’t able to broker a deal.