46-53, immigration bill goes down in defeat

The comprehensive immigration reform bill that has dodged attacks from the left and right for weeks, survived “poison pill” amendments, and was once pulled from the Senate schedule failed its most important test Thursday. Passage of the legislation now appears unlikely.

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The bipartisan coalition that had shepherded the measure through so many obstacles failed to get the 60 votes necessary to end debate. The final vote was 46-53

Until Thursday morning, it was unclear whether the bill would survive the cloture vote. But in the end, opponents of the measure from both sides of the political spectrum gained enough support to derail the legislation. Liberals felt it did not go far enough in protecting illegal immigrants, while conservatives rejected the bill because they felt it would grant amnesty to the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country.

Republican foes of the measure argued that the American public was broadly united in opposition to the bill and had made its views known by flooding Congress with phone calls and e-mails.

“What part of ‘no’ don’t we understand?,” asked Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who said the immigration fight had “reengaged the American people.”

But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the key members of the coalition that crafted the bill, warned his Republican colleagues ahead of the vote.

“Remember this day if you vote ‘no,’” Graham said, adding that this bill would not come back in its current form and it is “as good as it gets.”

President Bush has taken a hands-on approach to the legislation, which he views as an important part of his domestic legacy. Leading up to the vote, called senators to urge them to support the bill.