Bipartisan Immigration Bill Stalls in Senate

The sweeping bill aimed at revamping the country's immigration laws has apparently stalled in the Senate, where lawmakers have refused to limit debate on the compromise bill that was reached by a bipartisan group of senators and the White House.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The sweeping bill aimed at revamping the country's immigration laws has apparently stalled in the U.S. Senate. Senators, tonight, refuse to limit debate on the compromise bill that was reached by a bipartisan group of senators in the White House.

NPR's Brian Naylor is on Capitol Hill and he joins us now. And Brian, I want you to explain to us what happened to the immigration bill this evening.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Well, they had a procedural vote to limit to end debate on this bill. They have been debating it for about two weeks now, and the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it was time to bring this debate to a close.

They needed 60 votes in order to end the debate, but they only got less than a majority, 45 or so. And so, they didn't get a majority. They didn't get the 60 votes. They can't end debate. And so, Senator Reid announced that he was moving on to something else. It was time to wrap up the immigration bill and move on to the energy bill.

SIEGEL: And we should explain that in this case, it was supporters of the bill who wanted to end the debate, and opponents who wanted to oppose closure.

NAYLOR: That's right. That's right.

SIEGEL: Opponents came in all different stripes in this debate.

NAYLOR: Yeah. Yeah. Well, part of it was that, you know, the way this bill came about was rather unorthodox. Instead of going through the normal committee process, with hearings and testimony and that sort of thing, this was kind of cobbled together behind close doors, between Republicans and Democrats and members of the Bush administration. And what they wound up was this very precarious balance and - which a lot of folks didn't like.

The conservative Republicans didn't like it because they said it was amnesty, because it would allow the 12 million estimated undocumented aliens in this country a path to citizenship. Liberal Democrats didn't like it because it changed the way visas are awarded from a family-based system - if you have relatives, you can bring them to into the country - to one that's based on merit, based on what kind of job skills you have.

And so - there was a lot of public pressure, especially I think coming from the right, from the talk show hosts and the bloggers and the people who were calling up their senator's office. And one Republican, Southern Republican said he was booed when he held a town hall meeting about this a few weeks ago.

So it was definitely an uphill struggle. There was a lot for a lot of people to not like about this bill, and at the end, it was just too much for the measure to overcome.

SIEGEL: Well, sounds like a pretty big political defeat of people who really were in favor of this compromise, and they included President Bush, Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator John McCain, who's been the lone Republican presidential aspirant in favor of this immigration bill, Senator Jon Kyl there - some pretty big names...

NAYLOR: Right.

SIEGEL: ...have gone down on this.

NAYLOR: Yeah. There are a lot of long faces on the Senate floor this evening. President Bush was one of the prime movers. He saw this as a way to enhance his legacy, one of the few legislative accomplishments that he might have obtained from a Democratic Congress. But Republicans were upset with the president. They didn't like the fact that he criticized them for not supporting the bill and they - Senator Trent Lott said earlier today that the president would be better off focusing on G8 and leaving the Senate alone on this. And so...

SIEGEL: So borrowing some political miracle - that's it for immigration?

NAYLOR: Yeah. It's possible that it could come back. Senator Reid is saying, well, if we can reach an agreement on the amendments and limit amendments that we can reconsider this. But at the moment, it seems that that's an unlikely prospect.

SIEGEL: NPR's Brian Naylor on Capitol Hill. Thank you very much, Brian.

NAYLOR: Thanks, Robert.

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