Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sen. Jon Kyl said yesterday that a Republican-led filibuster would be on the table to block immigration legislation supported by congressional Democrats and President Bush that grants citizenship rights to illegal aliens.

“It would be in order,” the Arizona Republican told radio host Laura Ingraham yesterday. “My only question is whether we’ve got the votes to do it.”

The comments highlight the deep divide between most congressional Republicans and the White House over an explosive political issue. And, coming from the No. 4 Republican in the chamber, the tough talk suggests the final two years of Mr. Bush’s presidency could see heightened belligerence from both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“This is a troubling sign,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. “I hope the president will work with Democrats on the Hill to pass bipartisan, comprehensive immigration-reform legislation early next year.”

Though Mr. Kyl indicated he would support a filibuster, he’s not confident that he and his allies could secure the 40 votes necessary to block the immigration legislation that passed earlier this year. The legislation gives illegal aliens a direct path to citizenship and allows them to collect Social Security benefits for the work they’ve performed.

“I would certainly hope that the majority of Republicans in the Senate would not be complicit in passing legislation that is not wise, that, for example, would put everybody on a path to citizenship and say that temporary workers get to get U.S. citizenship and so on,” he said. “Clearly, a majority of the Republicans in the Senate don’t want that kind of legislation, but whether we’ve got 40 votes, I’m just not sure.”

In May, 36 senators opposed the legislation. The overwhelming majority of them were Republicans. In last week’s elections, four of those opponents lost their seats. Only one supporter of the bill — Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who is retiring — will be replaced by a Republican who might join those opposed to the bill.

With only 32 or 33 members opposed to the legislation, a filibuster attempt seems unlikely to succeed. Even if Mr. Bush were to veto the legislation, there would be enough Senate support to override it.

All hope among tough opponents of illegal immigration rests with the House, where Republicans maintained a hard line against any legislation with even a hint of amnesty in it. Democrats picked up some 30 seats in last week’s elections, but many of the new Democrats are from conservative areas and are opposed to amnesty.

The challenge would be for Republican leaders to pick off enough of those conservative Democrats to overcome broad support among most in the caucus.

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