Senate Dems block 'sanctuary cities' bill
© Getty Images

Senate Democrats on Wednesday blocked a bill that would crack down on cities that don't comply with federal immigration law. 

Senators voted 53-44 on the bill from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Sixty votes were needed to overcome the procedural hurdle and formally start debate on the measure, which would limit federal grant money for so-called "sanctuary cities."

Senate Democrats also blocked legislation from Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCornyn campaign, Patton Oswalt trade jabs over comedian's support for Senate candidate MJ Hegar announces Texas Senate bid Liberal survey: Sanders cruising, Buttigieg rising MORE (R-Texas) that would increase penalties for some illegal immigrants who reenter the country after being deported.

Toomey stressed ahead of the vote that his proposal has bipartisan support across the country, and said it would be indefensible to not allow the Senate to at least debate it. 

"This to me is just common sense. It's not principally about immigration. It is almost entirely about security and keeping dangerous people off our streets," he said. 

But he faced an uphill battle to get the six Democrats on his side to move the legislation forward. A broader bill from Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBottom Line Bottom Line Top 5 races to watch in 2019 MORE (R-La.) was blocked last year, and top Democrats argued Wednesday's move amounted to a redo vote. 

Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSenate buzzsaw awaits 2020 progressive proposals Sanders courts GOP voters with 'Medicare for All' plan Glamorization of the filibuster must end MORE (D-Nev.) slammed Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? Dems charge ahead on immigration Biden and Bernie set for clash MORE (R-Ky.) for teeing up the votes, saying GOP lawmakers want "red meat going into their convention." 

"Senate Republicans today will promote Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Post-Mueller, Trump has a good story to tell for 2020 MORE's anti-immigrant rhetoric with action. ... These bills follow Trump's lead in demonizing and criminalizing immigrant latino families," Reid said from the Senate floor. 

Senate Republicans are scheduled to meet with Trump at the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) on Thursday. Trump has gotten pushback from Democrats, and some Republicans, over his immigration comments. 

 But McConnell defended Toomey and Cruz's measures, arguing their legislation could have prevented the death of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle. Steinle was killed in San Francisco just roughly a year ago, allegedly by an illegal immigrant who had already been deported five times.  

Toomey's legislation, while unsuccessful in the Senate, will give the Pennsylvania Republican a new talking point on "sanctuary cities" and law enforcement in his reelection bid. 

He and Katie McGinty, his Democratic opponent, sparred over the issue ahead of Wednesday's vote. Knocking McGinty, Toomey's campaign said the GOP senator will "continue his widely recognized leadership on fighting to keep Pennsylvanians safer from violent crime and terrorism."

Ted Kwong, a spokesman for Toomey's campaign, said the vote "showed a stark contrast between Senator Toomey's leadership on stopping dangerous sanctuary cities and Katie McGinty's meaningless calls for more 'dialogue,'"

McGinty fired back Wednesday, saying Toomey's legislation would "directly and blatantly" harm Pennsylvanians.

"We all agree that violent criminals, whether documented or undocumented, need to be apprehended. But the way to ensure that is done is to stand up for law enforcement and fund key programs so that enough resources are available for available for public safety," she added.

On Tuesday, she sent a letter to Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney urging "dialogue and cooperation" between local and federal officials. 

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDurbin calls Mueller report findings on Trump team 'troubling' Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal MORE (D-Ill.), pointing to Toomey's reelection bid, accused Republicans of playing politics with Wednesday's vote. 

"Why are we bringing it back today? Well, there's been some candor on the Republican said," Durbin said ahead of the vote. "The senator who is offering this measure is up to for reelection." 

But House GOP lawmakers urged the Senate to pass the bills ahead of the vote.

"Congress has an obligation to protect Americans from dangerous criminals,” Rep. Vern Buchanan said. “These two bills ensure we prioritize public safety and will prohibit taxpayer dollars to locations that provide safe harbor to illegal immigrants."

— Updated 4:39 p.m.