The Senate on Thursday blocked a move to deploy 6,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, but the proposal still drew majority support, showing strong backing for border security in the first key test vote on immigration in months.
Fifty-one senators, including 12 Democrats, voted for the 6,000-troop deployment, defying President Obama’s call to go instead with a smaller 1,200-troop deployment. Still, the amendment needed a supermajority of 60 votes to pass and fell nine short, as Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who has taken the lead on immigration for his party, pleaded with his colleagues not to abandon Mr. Obama’s plan.
“The president’s plan is smart and focused,” Mr. Schumer said on the floor.
Mr. Obama also has called on Congress to pass a broad bill to legalize illegal immigrants, but the vote showed wariness among a number of Democrats about whether the border is secure enough to proceed.
One telling statistic was how many Democrats in tough re-election campaigns voted for the deployment, including Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Barbara Boxer of California. Mrs. Boxer’s California colleague, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, also a Democrat, initially voted against the deployment but, after talking with Mrs. Boxer, switched her vote to favor the additional troops.
Mr. Schumer was seen lobbying both of them.
All but one Republican supported the 6,000-troop proposal.
Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, Arizona Republicans, proposed the 6,000-troop deployment, with 3,000 of those designated for Arizona, which is now ground zero for the flow of illegal immigrants coming across the border.
Trying to get in front of that push, Mr. Obama this week said he will ask Congress for money to deploy up to 1,200 troops to the border as a temporary measure until more immigration enforcement personnel and technology can be sent. He said the troops would help in a support role to secure the border but also would focus on inspecting southbound shipments to try to stop U.S. guns and money from flowing to drug cartels.
Mr. McCain and Mr. Kyl said 1,200 troops would not be enough to get a handle on the illegal immigration situation.
Two other border security amendments also got majority support but failed to pass. One would have boosted a successful program that gives illegal immigrants mandatory jail time rather than immediately deporting them —after which many of them turn around and try again to enter. The other amendment would have boosted funding for all law enforcement along the border.
The border security debate came on amendments to an emergency spending bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and for domestic disasters. The amendments would have taken money from unused stimulus funds.