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STEM Visa Bill Falls in House

The House today voted down a Republican bill to offer visas to highly skilled immigrants as weighty electoral politics proved too much to move forward on an issue both sides support.

The STEM Jobs Act fell on a 257-158 vote because it was brought up under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds margin to pass. The White House had been urging K Street groups to oppose the bill and wait for a bipartisan version at another time.

Republican leaders touted the bill as jobs legislation, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said skilled immigrants should be able to contribute to the American economy.

“America has always been a place which puts a premium on ensuring that no matter who you are or where you’re from, everyone should have an opportunity here to go and achieve success,” he said in a floor speech supporting the legislation. “We should start to take advantage of our status as a destination for the best and brightest.”

Democrats, however, objected to the fact that while the bill would grant 55,000 visas to skilled immigrants, it would end the green card lottery known as the diversity visa program.

“The need for STEM visas, there is no debate,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said in a heated floor speech. “The real debate is the closing of doors of opportunity to other people.”

Republican aides said Democrats simply wanted to deny the GOP an election-year win on an immigration issue. Democrats countered that if Republicans were serious about solving the issue, they would have brought up a bipartisan bill for a simple majority vote.

But there was some bipartisan support, signaling that if the politics are removed, there could be middle ground to pass a STEM bill next year. Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas), the bill’s only Democratic co-sponsor, said he supported the bill because he thought it could be the first step toward immigration reform.

“I want to see immigration reform,” he said. “The more we can get our Republican friends to show some support for some sort of immigration reform, even though it’s a little slice, the better it is. I’m looking at the big picture.”

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