Despite a strong push from President Bush and support from a large bloc of the majority Democratic party in Congress, immigration reform went down in flames on Thursday (June 28), when members of the House of Representatives voted against advancing the legislation to a full Senate vote.
It is now virtually certain that the legislation, which would have created a path to citizenship for some of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., will not be revived before a new Congress is seated in 2009.
CNN reported that senators voted on Thursday morning against advancing debate on the controversial bill — which would have also tightened border security — failing to win the 60 votes necessary to pave the way for final passage by the Senate. The final 46-to-53 vote was a rebuke to the signature domestic legislation of Bush's second term, with only 12 Republicans voting in favor of the first attempt at comprehensive immigration legislation in more than a decade (see "Bush Can't Stop Immigration-Reform Bill From Falling Apart").
It came on the same day that the White House rejected a subpoena from congressional investigators about the firings of federal prosecutors, setting up a potential constitutional showdown.
Bush made a brief statement after the vote, saying Congress' failure to act was a disappointment, adding, "I'm sorry the Senate was unable to reach agreement on the bill this morning. ... Congress really needs to prove to the American people that it can come together on hard issues."
The defeat of the bill came a day after its supporters won a major battle: They were able to beat back an amendment that would have stripped out one of the most contentious elements, a path to legalization and eventual citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country. Critics had repeatedly claimed that the path to citizenship was essentially amnesty for people who had entered the country illegally.
"I think most people will recognize that citizenship is the most precious gift America can provide," said Missouri Republican Senator Kit Bond, a sponsor of the defeated amendment, according to CNN. "There are many of us who believe it should not serve as a reward to those who broke the law."
Another amendment that was defeated Wednesday was one by Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison that would have required adult illegal immigrants to return to their home country within two years before applying for a new kind of visa that would allow them to stay in the U.S. indefinitely.
The failure of the bill came after impassioned debate on the measure on Thursday, as well as a call from Bush to a number of senators earlier in the day asking for their help in passing it. According to the Los Angeles Times, the immigration package was defeated in part by grassroots conservatives who were spurred on by right-wing radio talk show hosts, who urged listeners to deluge Congress with phone calls and e-mails rejecting the legislation. As senators were debating the bill Thursday morning, a number of Senate phone systems crashed due to the volume of calls from people for and against it.
Also on Thursday, the White House, asserting executive privilege, rejected a call from congressional investigators demanding subpoenaed documents from two former White House advisors. The Associated Press reported that Bush's lawyers told Congress the White House would not turn over subpoenaed documents from former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor related to the controversial firings of federal prosecutors.
Thursday was the deadline to turn over the documents, and the White House also made it clear that neither Miers nor Taylor would be available to testify next month, as directed by the subpoenas. The rejection sets up a potential constitutional showdown between Bush and Congress, with possible contempt citations from the House and Senate and a fight in federal court over separation of powers.
In rejecting the subpoenas, Bush's lawyers said they had offered more than 8,500 pages of documents, as well as testimony by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and an offer to have Miers, Taylor and White House political strategist Karl Rove be interviewed by Judiciary Committee aides in closed-door sessions, without transcripts, an offer the Senate and House Judiciary Committees rejected.