Senate says no to 6,000 border troops

Plan blocked by Democrats

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Immigrant rights groups said the amendments’ failure was a victory and said they hoped it clears room for the Senate to begin debate on a broader legalization bill.

“Our country does not need more political theater and grandstanding. We’ve already spent $17 billion on enforcement over the last eight years, with nothing to show for it,” said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza. “Throwing more money into the same strategies that have given us no results is simply not a cost-effective approach. Both parties and the president know full well that meaningful and effective border strategy can only be achieved through comprehensive immigration reform.”

But the votes highlighted an unease among senators whom Mr. Obama has asked to pursue a broad legalization bill rather than a border-security-first approach.

One telling statistic is how many Democrats in tough re-election campaigns voted for the 6,000-troop deployment, including Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Barbara Boxer of California. Mrs. Boxer’s California counterpart, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a fellow Democrat, initially voted against the deployment but switched her vote to favor the troops after talking with Mrs. Boxer.

Mr. Schumer was seen lobbying both of them, as well as some of the other Democrats who ended up voting for the deployment.

All but one Republican, Sen. George V. Voinovich of Ohio, supported the 6,000-troop proposal.

At a press conference Thursday, Mr. Obama defended his 1,200-troop plan, saying it was drawn up last year, not as a response to recent activity in Arizona.

He again pressed lawmakers to join him in trying to pass a bill that would legalize illegal immigrants and put them on a multistep path to citizenship.

However, recognizing unease among some members of his own party with that plan, he said he’ll have to rely on Republican votes to pass a bill.

“I don’t even need you to meet me halfway; meet me a quarter of the way,” he said. “I’ll bring the majority of Democrats to a smart, sensible, comprehensive immigration reform bill. But I’m going to have to have some help, given the rules of the Senate, where a simple majority is not enough.”

Mr. Obama also defended his Afghanistan surge, saying the country needs to remember that the Taliban harbored al Qaeda when the Sept. 11 attacks happened.

“They absolutely are a threat to us,” he said. “They’re a significant threat to us. I wouldn’t be deploying young men and women into harm’s way if I didn’t think that they were an absolute threat to us.”

A group of Democrats led by Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin offered an amendment on the spending bill to demand that the president lay out a nonbinding timetable for engagement in Afghanistan. But that effort was rejected overwhelmingly, 80-18.

The Senate also rejected two efforts by Sen Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, to cut elsewhere in the federal budget to pay for the spending. The cuts were defeated by votes of 50-47 and 53-45.

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