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Bush seeks immigration action
President Bush, stung by Thursday's vote to block the immigration bill, is telling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to put it back on the Senate's schedule, and the bill's supporters say they think it can be resurrected.
"I urge Senator Reid to act quickly to bring this bill back to the Senate floor for a vote, and I urge senators from both parties to support it," Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address. The address is usually aired on Saturday, but the White House released it a day early to insert Mr. Bush, who is traveling overseas, into the public debate over the bill.
The legislation collapsed in spectacular fashion Thursday when 38 Republicans, 11 Democrats and one independent voted to filibuster the bill, demanding more time to pass amendments.
Mr. Reid fired back at the White House yesterday, saying the immigration bill failed because Mr. Bush couldn't persuade his own party to support it.
"The White House has so far failed to rally Senate Republicans behind tough, fair and practical immigration reform. I will bring the immigration bill back to the Senate floor as soon as enough Republicans are ready to join us in moving forward on a bill to fix our broken immigration system," the Nevada Democrat said.
Some senators said the bill will return.
Those who were part of the "grand bargain" that became the bill said they were close to an agreement Thursday night on how to handle amendments when Mr. Reid made the decision to force the procedural vote.
They said they will keep trying, and are counting on Mr. Reid to try again if they can get an agreement.
"If we had taken more time, we would have had an opportunity of reaching a conclusion," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said at a press conference with other senators who worked on the deal.
But getting an agreement to return to the bill does not guarantee passage. Several amendments had already passed that members of the grand bargain said are fatal to the deal, and senators will have to figure out how to handle those.
Missing from Mr. Kennedy's press conference yesterday were the two Georgia Republican senators who were part of the grand bargain at the beginning.
In a joint statement yesterday, Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss made it clear they do not support the bill as it is written, and will have to see major changes before they can vote for it.
Thursday's vote was 50-45 to limit debate. Voting for limiting debate were 37 Democrats, seven Republicans and one independent.
Interest groups pushing for the bill said Democrats were supposed to deliver 35 votes and Republicans were supposed to deliver 25.
"From our point of view we did our job, and from our point of view the Republicans didn't," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, which wants a bill that offers a path to citizenship to illegal aliens.
Democratic senators said the blame for Republicans' lack of support lies with Mr. Bush.
"When the president calls Harry Reid and says I can get some more votes for you, we'll come back to it. But until that time we can't," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. "They said he made some phone calls, but he could only deliver six or seven votes."
Mr. Bush yesterday got more involved in the negotiations, calling Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Whip Trent Lott and Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl yesterday from Air Force One as he traveled in Europe.
The president also will visit the Capitol on Tuesday to meet with Senate Republicans in a closed-door meeting.
In his radio address, Mr. Bush acknowledged he and his opponents on this issue — including many in his own party — have been talking past each other.
He said he understands skepticism that he will enforce the laws, but said he is spending more money on border security than ever before.
Mr. Bush said senators should accept the immigration deal even though they may not like parts of it.
"Like any legislation, this bill is not perfect. And like many senators, I believe the bill will need to be further improved along the way before it becomes law," he said.
This year's immigration debate is turning into a repeat of last year's. During that debate Mr. Reid also brought the process to a halt, preventing Republicans from offering many amendments. But criticism from Mr. Bush, editorial pages and even from the groups supporting an immigration bill forced him to relent and allow a broader debate.
The Senate ended up passing a bill, though it never received a vote in the House.
However, this year is different for several reasons. Democrats control the Senate, Mr. Bush is weaker and so far the interest groups are blaming Republicans rather than Mr. Reid.
"A small number of Republican senators seemed to hijack this process," Mr. Sharry said.
By John R. Bolton
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