A fragile compromise that would legalize millions of unlawful immigrants failed a crucial vote in the Senate Thursday, leaving its prospects uncertain.
By a vote of 33-63, the Senate fell far short of the 60 votes that would have been needed to limit debate on the immigration measure and put it on a path to passage. Republicans - even those who helped craft the measure and are expected to support it - banded together to oppose that move, while a majority of Democrats backed it.
Still, the measure - a top priority for President Bush that's under attack from the right and left - got a reprieve when Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would give it more time before yanking the bill and moving on to other matters.
"We need to complete this marathon," Reid said.
His decision set the stage for yet another procedural vote later Thursday that will measure lawmakers' appetite for a so-called "grand bargain" between liberals and conservatives on immigration.
Business interests and their congressional allies were already angry that the temporary worker program had been cut in half from its original 400,000-person-a-year target.
The vote on the amendment was the culmination of a bruising evening for the bill, as both Republicans and Democrats voted on more than a dozen changes.
The bipartisan authors of the bill now before the Senate have been walking a fine line, as they fend off attempts from the left and the right to alter what they have dubbed the grand bargain.
Overnight, the measure's backers had an additional challenge, staving off attempts to change the bill by two of the front runners for the democratic presidential nomination, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.
Clinton's amendment would have made it easier for the spouses and minor children of permanent residents who are not yet citizens to enter the country.
"Five years in the life of a young child is precious time indeed," she said. The amendment was rejected 53 to 44.
The Senate is set to vote later Thursday on whether to end debate on the bill that would tighten U.S. borders while putting an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship.
Obama's amendment proposed changing the way visas are granted, from a family-based to a merit-based system. Calling it a social experiment, Obama proposed to end the new system after five years.
Obama's amendment was also rejected.
Sen. John McCain (R–AZ), a leading GOP presidential contender and one of the sponsors of the immigration bill, also spoke during the prime-time debate. He rose to argue against an attempt to phase out the guest worker provision in the measure, labeling it an effort to kill the bill outright.
With The Associated Press