Bush suffers major defeat: immigration reform bill blocked in Senate
President Bush suffered a major defeat Thursday as the immigration reform bill was defeated in the Senate. Although there had been strong conservative opposition to the bill, the president had been pushing for it hard the last few weeks.
"The Senate drove a stake Thursday through President Bush's plan to legalize millions of unlawful immigrants, likely postponing major action on immigration until after the 2008 elections," the Associated Press reports.
In a stunning defeat for the bill, which would have also established a merit-based immigration system, Senators voted by 53 to 46 votes against moving ahead with a final vote on the measure.
The 46 votes mustered by the supporters of the bill were well short of the super-majority of 60 votes needed to keep alive the measure, branded an "amnesty" by opponents.
Before the vote, Senators from both sides said a vote to derail the bill would likely doom efforts to tackle immigration reform before the 2008 presidential election.
The bill had represented one of President George W. Bush's last, best hopes for a signature second-term domestic achievement, and its failure will come as another painful blow to a White House besieged with political woes.
The measure had staggered in the Senate for weeks, collapsing earlier this month under fierce opposition, mainly from conservatives who branded it an "amnesty" for those who broke the law to enter the United States.
Democrats from conservative districts also found it difficult to support the bill, and some of them also fretted at the terms of a guest worker program included in the bill.
The landmark measure was resurrected this week in the Senate after an initial failure earlier this month, pushed by a cross-party band of "grand bargainers" who framed the original bill, but with each day that passed, its support appeared to ebb away.
The measure would have granted an eventual path to legal status to some 12 million illegal immigrants and initiated a low-wage "guest worker" program.
It would have replaced the current family-dominated immigration system with a merit-based points formula, and attempt to cut a huge backlog for permanent resident "green card" applicants.
Before the vote, veteran Senator Edward Kennedy, one of the backers of the compromise, hit out at conservatives who helped derail the bill.
"We know what they are against, we don't know what they are for," Kennedy said.
"What are they going to do with the twelve-and-a-half million who are undocumented here? Send them back?"
Even had the bill passed the Senate, it would have been assured a rocky welcome in the House of Representatives, as this week an influential group of lawmakers, voted by 114 votes to 23 to oppose it.
Democratic House leaders had warned Bush he would have needed around 70 Republican votes to ensure passage of the bill -- to make up for Democrats from conservative districts opposed to it.
(with wire reports)