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Immigration Bill Scuttled

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made good on his threat to yank a bipartisan immigration bill off the floor tonight after the measure, for the second time in one day, failed to even muster a bare majority of support. The Senate voted, 45-50, against cutting off debate on the bill — far short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, or cut off a GOP-led filibuster. Earlier in the day, the Senate voted, 34-61, against ending debate. On the second vote, 12 Democrats voted with 38 Republicans to block the bill from moving forward, while just eight GOP Senators backed a majority of Democrats in voting to end debate on the bill. But Reid noted that even if all 51 members of the Democratic Caucus had voted to end the filibuster, he still would have fallen short of the 60 he needed. And he placed the blame squarely on Republicans, saying he had “tried every possible way” to accommodate their desire for more votes on amendments. “There’s been a lot of bending over backwards to accommodate people who wanted to offer amendments,” Reid said on the floor after the vote. “Republicans even objected to calling up their own amendments.” Still, Reid promised to bring the bill back to the floor if the bipartisan negotiators could negotiate a limited number of amendments and a time certain for a vote on final passage. The vote capped off a day that was fraught with tension as bill backers scrambled to reach a compromise on the number of amendments on which they would allow conservative Republicans to have votes, even though many of the proposals were considered contentious or regarded as poison-pills. But that effort was stymied, several GOP sources said, because conservatives such as Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) could not whittle down their list of amendments to no more than 10. “The deal-makers are trying to ram through a massive reform written in secret, trying to cut off debate and deny votes on dozens of Republican amendments,” said DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton. “Sen. DeMint’s had it with this bill and this broken process, and he’s going to demand his colleagues get their right to full debate and votes.” Sensing that the bill would be defeated, both Republicans and Democrats began pointing fingers at each other early in the day. Reid repeatedly put the onus on President Bush, saying, “This is not a Democratic bill. … This is the president’s bill.” He added that he told Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who helped craft the bill, “Tell the president that he better get his Republican colleagues to help us on his bill.” Democrats had their own troubles building support for the bill, as 15 decided to oppose bringing debate on the measure to a close earlier in the day. Ultimately, three Democrats — Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.), Carl Levin (Mich.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) — switched their votes in the evening vote tally. Still, Democratic leaders insisted they had never promised unified Democratic support for the bipartisan bill. “We never maintained that we could get every Democratic vote,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.). Indeed, that made it even more imperative to gain GOP support to attract the 60 votes needed to cut off debate. However, Republicans said that atmosphere was polluted by what they consider Reid’s partisan plan to turn to a vote of no confidence on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales immediately after disposing of the immigration legislation. “People are frustrated with the over-politicization of everything,” said one Senate GOP leadership aide. “There’s no reason to go forward in good faith, because he hasn’t shown any back.”

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