The immigration “grand bargain” imploded in the Senate last night under a Republican-led filibuster, with the bill under attack from both sides and collapsing of its own weight.
In two votes yesterday Republicans blocked Democratic leaders’ bid to end to the debate and hold a final vote on the bill — each time joined by more than 10 Democrats. The vote 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 after the 2006 Republican loss of Congress.
In last night’s final showdown, Democrats couldn’t even muster a majority of the Senate, losing 50-45, 15 votes shy of the 60 needed to break the filibuster.
“The headline is going to be ‘Democrats vote for the bill, Republicans vote against it, the president fails again,’ ” said Majority Leader Harry Reid, adding that he could not allow Republicans to take any more time on the bill because he needed to move on to other issues.
Republicans complained Democrats were shutting them out from offering enough amendments, and a filibuster was their only option. Still, they said they had been close to a deal when Mr. Reid pulled the plug.
“If we had just gone on a couple more days, I think this bill would have been completed. But it’s apparent to me the majority leader just decided to give up,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, who said Democrats were afraid to take some tough votes.
Republicans said they were winnowing down the more than 200 amendments filed to a list of about a dozen from their members, and said they told Mr. Reid it could have been ready within a few days.
But Democrats said they had given the bill two weeks and Republicans were constantly moving the goalposts.
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.
The loss hit some Republicans hard.
Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican and a 2008 presidential candidate who had invested a lot of his political capital in the issue, refused to talk to reporters as he left the Senate floor.
“I don’t have anything to say. I apologize, but I don’t have anything to say,” he said as he ducked inside the senators-only elevator. Mr. McCain was one of the seven Republicans who sided with Democrats to break the filibuster.
Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who was in a room off the Senate floor during the vote trying to wrangle Republican votes, also refused to answer reporters’ questions afterward.