The Senate voted yesterday to begin debate on an immigration-reform bill, turning aside objections from senators who said the legislation is being rushed and acting even as Senate offices were being flooded with calls and faxes urging the deal be blocked.
Immediately after the 69-23 vote to proceed to the bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he will extend the debate an extra week — a concession to Republicans, but also an indication that he is committed to producing a bill this year rather than forcing a stalemate.
“If we put rhetoric aside, we have the opportunity to pass a law that treats people fairly and strengthens our economy,” he said, even as he acknowledged that he has doubts about parts of the bill, which most senators saw for the first time yesterday.
The Bush administration and a group of senators had been meeting in private for months to write the bill and announced the deal Thursday, drawing an immediate flood of calls, faxes and e-mails telling lawmakers to scuttle the agreement.
It wasn’t long before those calls bore fruit.
“Already by Friday afternoon, we had some of the Republican offices calling us and saying: ‘Would you tell your members we’re definitely going to vote no, and will you call off the phone calls?’ ” said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, which has deemed the bill an amnesty for illegal aliens and whose members already have sent 185,000 faxes to Senate offices.
Groups on both sides of the issue are unhappy with the bill. Some are demanding that the legislation be killed, while others are urging lawmakers to try to fix it on the Senate floor.
One of the first amendments, from Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, will cut the proposed guest-worker program in half from 400,000 new workers, Mr. Reid said.
That vote, which could take place today, will be the first test of the fragile coalition backing the bill.
A Senate Democratic aide said yesterday that the dozen or so Republicans and Democrats who drafted the compromise will meet every day to decide which amendments to support or oppose, all with an eye toward preserving the core of the bill.
“There’s a commitment to make those decisions jointly,” the aide said on the condition of anonymity. The aide said the group is committed to “stick together to preserve that grand bargain.”
For now, most calls to Senate offices are coming from those who say the bill rewards illegal aliens with amnesty.
Senators are already defending themselves against the charge.
“My telephone is ringing, and most people want to know: ‘Did you secure the border?’ or they tell you: ‘You did not secure the border,’ ” Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, said on the Senate floor yesterday. “You’ve got to set them straight.”View Entire Story
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