In a vote that had become almost preordained after yesterdayâ€™s bitterly fought battle in the Senate over amendments to the bipartisan immigration reform bill, the billâ€™s supporters came up 14 votes short of the needed 60 on a procedural motion to end debate and move it on to a final vote on the Senate floor. The vote on the motion was 46-53, with only the ill Sen. Tim Johnson not voting. The most stinging part of this defeat for President Bush has to be that it came at the hands of his own party. Thirty three Democrats, 12 Republicans, and Independent Joe Lieberman supported the motion.
Thirty seven Republicans, 15 Democrats, and Independent Bernie Sanders were opposed. Interestingly all the Democratic presidential candidates in the Senate voted for the bill, while Republican candidate John McCain was one of the few Republicans who joined the Democratic support. Sam Brownback first voted with McCain, and then changed his vote, when it looked like the measure was going to fail.
This bill was killed essentially by both Democratic and Republican senators in the South, and Republican leaning swing states. Â David Vitter (R-LA), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), John Cornyn (R-TX) lead the Republican opposition. Three Democrats, two who are freshman senators, Jon Tester (D-MT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Jim Webb (D-VA), from swing states also voted against the measure. Only three Southern Republicans supported it Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mel Martinez (R-FL), and Trent Lott (R-MS). The rest of the GOP support came from a group of moderate Republicans mostly located in the Northeast and Midwest.
President Bush was obviously disappointed by the demise of a bill that he had worked very hard to see passed. â€œI thank the members of the Senate and members of my administration who worked so hard on the border security and immigration reform bill. I’m sorry the Senate was unable to reach agreement on the bill this morning. Legal immigration is one of the top concerns of the American people and Congress’s failure to act on it is a disappointment. The American people understand the status quo is unacceptable when it comes to our immigration laws. A lot of us worked hard to see if we couldn’t find a common ground — it didn’t work.â€
The president also bemoaned Congressâ€™s inability to work together. â€œCongress really needs to prove to the American people that it can come together on hard issues. The Congress needs to work on comprehensive energy policy and good health care; make sure health care is affordable without inviting the federal government to run the health care system. We’ve got to work together to make sure we can balance this federal budget, and not overspend or raise taxes on the American people. We’ve got a lot of work to do.â€
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted against the bill, said, â€œI had hoped for a bipartisan accomplishment, and what we got was a bipartisan defeat. The American people made their voices heard, the Senate worked its will, and in the end it was clear that the bill that was crafted did not have the support of the people of Kentucky, it did not have the support of most Americans, it did not have the support of my conference, and it did not have enough support in the Democratic conference, a third of which opposed it. This isnâ€™t a day to celebrate. We donâ€™t celebrate when a pressing issue stays unresolved. But we can be confident that we will find a solution to the problems that weâ€™ve tried to address here. Many people have made great personal sacrifices to work on a solution to our broken immigration system. A lot of them exposed themselves to ridicule and contempt.â€
The reality is that this bill was flawed from its inception. It never struck the right balance between border enforcement, and what to do with the 11-13 million illegal immigrants that are currently in the United States. For practical reasons, even if the bill had passed, it would have been nearly impossible to enforce. I would suggest if they attempt to draft this type of immigration reform bill again, they should leave the border enforcement provisions in, but look for a way to solve the issue of the immigrants who are already in this country, without forcing them to pay large fines that canâ€™t afford, or shuttling them back and forth in and out of the country. I am of the opinion that passing no bill is better than passing a bad bill, but this is a devastating defeat for President Bush, and you can be certain that immigration will still be a major issue for the Southern and Border States in the 2008 election.
Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com. Â His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics