Immigration Bill Fails on Senate Floor

The U.S. Senate killed the immigration bill. Senators were 14 votes short of the 60 needed to move toward final passage of the bill, which was criticized by both parties. Conservatives say it gave amnesty to illegal immigrants. Democrats say fees associated with obtaining visas were too high.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

I'm Renee Montagne.

Major news from Congress this morning. The Senate has killed the immigration bill. In a key test vote, senators failed to get the 60 votes needed to limit debate and move toward final passage of the bill.

NPR's David Welna is following this story and joins us from the Capitol. David, just this past Tuesday, senators moved the bill forward in a test vote. What happened?

DAVID WELNA: Well, Renee, that vote on Tuesday was simply on bringing the bill back up to be amended further. So there were some who basically opposed the bill, but who voted for it to try to make it more to their liking. And obviously, with today's vote - which was seven votes short of the 60 that was needed to stay on the bill showed that what the Senate has done with this bill so far hasn't been nearly enough to their liking.

Those who spoke out on the Senate floor today against the bill happen to be all conservative Republicans from the deep South, and they criticized not only the legislation, but also what several of them called the incompetence of the federal government. But there were also some Democrats who opposed the bill, whether they - because they're from Republican-leaning states or because they're allies of organized labor that's largely come out against the bill.

So even though this was a bipartisan bill that was backed by the president and both Senate leaders, the bipartisan opposition proved too much to overcome, and in the end, even Republican leader Mitch McConnell voted to kill the bill.

MONTAGNE: And even yesterday, though, senators were pushing away what would be called killer amendments, and the prospects looked good. How did the opposition get the upper hand?

WELNA: Well, they did when the Senate actually voted against tabling one amendment, and that meant there had to be unanimous consent to go to a vote on the amendment. And the Southern Republicans wouldn't give that consent, and that stopped any further consideration of the bill until this morning's vote.

You know, I know that sounds like a lot of inside baseball, but these are the kinds of things that give the minority in the Senate the power to kill legislation, just as they did today.

MONTAGNE: Well, President Bush and the bill's sponsors have said repeatedly that the status quo is not acceptable. What happens now?

WELNA: Well, it will remain the status quo until Congress does change the immigration laws in some way that will make a real difference. And I think that's not likely to happen now until there's a new administration in the White House, since the rest of this year's taken up with other legislation, and next year not being a good time to bring up such a divisive issue with presidential elections dominating the political scene.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, this sounds like both a defeat for the president and also the new Democratic Congress.

WELNA: Well, I would say it was a really stunning defeat for the president. He spent a lot of what little political capital he seems to have left on this immigration bill, and he's left with a bitterly split Republican Party.

But Democrats, I think, are going to say this was the fault of Republicans. They led the opposition to this legislation. They're going to put the blame on them and say that we're the friends of immigrants.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.

WELNA: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's David Welna.

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