Immigration Deal Falls Apart in Senate
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KWAME HOLMAN: Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, a 35-year veteran of the Senate, put it this way today after the Senate failed to pass an immigration reform bill before beginning its two-week spring break.
Sen. PATRICK LEAHY (D), Vermont: Congratulations are easy. Legislation is difficult. And we have seen just how difficult it is.
KWAME HOLMAN: Yesterday’s celebratory press conference, at which dozens of members from both parties congratulated each other for what they thought was a winning compromise, was old news by this morning.
Sen. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), Connecticut: We have gone from the — the — the high moment of unity and purpose here yesterday, to the kind of partisan backbiting, at least on the floor, that has too often characterized this chamber.
KWAME HOLMAN: A deal brokered mid-week by Republicans Chuck Hagel and Mel Martinez would have allowed most of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States to remain here while seeking citizenship. But that agreement began to unravel last night, when several conservative Republicans left out of the negotiations complained about the deal.
Sen. JOHN CORNYN (R), Texas: I would note that the entire Senate has yet to sign off on that agreement.
Sen. JEFF SESSIONS (R), Alabama: It’s an unprincipled approach, in my view, and not a well-thought-out plan.
KWAME HOLMAN: Those Republicans say all illegal immigrants should be required to go home first.
Their leader, Bill Frist, disagreed. He had announced his support for the Martinez-Hagel compromise earlier in the day. Still, Frist said he would push their amendments, but Democrats blocked the move.
Sen. BILL FRIST (R-TN), Majority Leader: That we have tried to move, to take up the Kyl amendment tonight, but the other side refused that opportunity.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democratic Leader Harry Reid defended his tactics, arguing, the number of amendments Frist planned to offer kept changing, and called them poison pills designed to sidetrack the bill.
Sen. HARRY REID (D-NV), Minority Leader: I respect Bill Frist, but his position on this matter simply defies logic. He’s allowing those who don’t support any legislation dealing with immigration reform to kill it by amendment filibuster.
KWAME HOLMAN: The disagreement between the two leaders over which amendments, if any, should be brought to a vote ultimately scuttled the bill. In fact, when the Martinez-Hagel compromise came up for a test vote this morning, Frist himself voted against it.
BILL FRIST: So, although I’m strongly supportive of a border security bill, tighten those borders, a bill that addresses work site enforcement, temporary-worker plan, brings people out of — out of the shadows, I do feel it’s important that we oppose bringing debate and amendment on the Hagel-Martinez amendment — bill — or amendment to a close in order to protect the rights of our members to offer amendments and to have them debated and voted upon.
KWAME HOLMAN: At a post-vote news conference, Democrat Edward Kennedy was asked who was to blame for the impasse.
Sen. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), Massachusetts: Well, I — I think politics got in front of policy on this issue. And I think there’s enough blame to really go around. We did have those that wanted to undermine it. And I think people are — have voted on amendments as long as I have been in the Senate. And people ought to be able to get a chance to — to vote on amendments.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter argued, the Democrats are content to leave Washington without a Senate bill, because that keeps the focus on the House-passed bill, a strict enforcement proposal, which has prompted numerous large protests around the country in recent weeks.
ARLEN SPECTER: It has not gone forward because there is political advantage for the Democrats not to have an immigration bill, not to take tough votes, to have the opprobrium of the House bill, which is objected to by the Hispanic population, illustrated by the massive rallies, to have that as the Republican position, contrasted with what would have happened had the Senate produced a bill, which was bipartisan, which was sponsored by Republicans.
Then, the opprobrium, the edge would have been taken off of the House bill. So, we’re going to leave here, Mr. President, by all indications, without having completed action on the immigration bill. And that is totally unacceptable.
KWAME HOLMAN: And, so, at week’s end, after 10 days of debate, senators prepare to head home for their two-week recess. One reporter asked Republican John McCain how senators could go home with such an important issue hanging in the balance.
QUESTION: Why do you have to go home?
Sen. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: I would like for my spokesman, Senator Kennedy, to answer that.
JOHN MCCAIN: To answer that question. You have got a — you have got a good point. They have — they have got a point, Chip (ph).
Sen. CHUCK HAGEL (R), Nebraska: The Senate stands in adjournment.
KWAME HOLMAN: At 2:30 this afternoon, the Senate adjourned, with tentative plans to revisit immigration reform once they return.