WASHINGTON – Legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws cleared a key hurdle Tuesday when the Senate voted 64 to 35 to take up the measure again after a nearly three-week break. But opponents of the proposal insisted they would scuttle it by week’s end.
The procedural vote squeezed past the 60-vote threshold needed to bring the bill back for debate, but even advocates said that was the easy part. The immigration bill now must run a gantlet of 26 politically charged amendments and clear another 60-vote hurdle Thursday to cut off a filibuster before a final vote Friday.
“This is going to begin some very heavy trench warfare,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. “It’s going to be like World War I.”
Still, Bush administration officials who have championed the proposal insisted a bill once left for dead was now on its way toward passage.
“We are confident in Senate passage because we look at the alternative and the alternative is nothing,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
“In the end, logic, common sense and wisdom will prevail,” Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez added in a shot against detractors, who continue to say the immigration bill’s border security provisions are unworkable and its path to citizenship for 12 million illegal immigrants amounts to “amnesty” for lawbreakers.
Privately, White House officials were less boastful. Even if it clears the Senate, the bill faces a wall of GOP opposition in the House. House Republicans took the unusual step in a closed-door conference meeting Tuesday of debating a resolution opposing the Senate bill, even before the Senate completes action on it.
The Senate’s vote struck a few ominous notes. Among the 35 senators opposing even taking up the bill for debate again were nine Democrats and a Democratic-leaning independent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, who are likely to oppose final passage. That number could grow as the bipartisan coalition that drafted the compromise bill tilts it toward conservative positions on some issues in an effort to garner more Republican votes.
The senators in the so-called “grand bargain” spent much of the afternoon finalizing a get-tough amendment that would put up $4.4 billion for border security, establish a tracking system to watch participants in the bill’s new guest worker programs and force illegal immigrants to leave the country temporarily to get the “Z visas” that would allow them to live and work legally in the United States.