WASHINGTON — The White House is poised to begin a last-ditch effort this week to resurrect the compromise immigration bill that was pulled off the Senate floor Thursday, with administration officials insisting another two days of debate could ensure passage of the contentious legislation.
Calling the measure "alive and well," the administration blamed the Democratic Senate leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, for prematurely abandoning efforts to get the bill passed, and said President Bush would go to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lobby for the legislation.
"Rather than doing finger-pointing, if Harry Reid is committed to this -- and this is an historic bill dealing with a problem that a lot of people think has to be solved, and it's got to be solved in a smart way -- why not go ahead and set aside those two days for debate?" White House spokesman Tony Snow said on "Fox News Sunday." "I think you're going to find the Republicans and Democrats are willing to do it."
Reid decided to end the Senate's consideration of the bill Thursday evening after a vote to cut off debate failed by 15 votes. Reid, who had allowed debate to continue for two weeks, said he had offered to give Republicans the chance to propose eight amendments to the bill, but GOP officials were seeking to raise as many as 12. The move was seen by Democrats as an attempt to extend debate indefinitely, in effect killing the bill by preventing it from getting to a final vote.
The legislation was proposed by a bipartisan group of senators who had worked for months on a "grand bargain" that would eventually give illegal immigrants a way to stay in the U.S. legally, a provision insisted on by Democrats, but also stepped up border and workplace enforcement, provisions demanded by Republicans.
The White House's stance puts Bush in an unusual position, joining Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the Senate's most prominent liberal and one of the compromise's leading backers, in pressuring Reid to give the Senate more time for considering the bill.
"This bill is alive and well, and we are more determined than ever to get it through," Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez, one of the administration's point men on the legislation, said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition." "What happened is just a break, and people want more debate. They want a little bit more time. We probably need a couple of days more."
It remained unclear whether Reid would reconsider his decision to pull the bill from the floor. Last week, he said the Senate would move on to energy legislation, and on Sunday, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the assistant Democratic leader in the Senate, said a handful of Republicans appeared committed to killing the bill by dragging on the amendment process indefinitely.
"There are four or five members on the Republican side who don't want a bill; they want to continue to offer amendment after amendment after amendment, to the point where this was bogging down," Durbin said on "Fox News Sunday." "We needed to have the Republican leadership say: 'There is an end to this. There are only so many of these amendments which we will entertain.' And that's what we were waiting for."
That analysis was backed by Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, one of the key Republicans involved in the immigration compromise. Kyl, a leading conservative seen as central to persuading wary Republicans to back the bill, said that although he supported allowing more GOP amendments to the bill last week, his patience was wearing thin.
"While I voted to allow my Republican colleagues more time to bring their amendments forth, they've had a good chance to do that," Kyl said on "Late Edition." "I'm ready to vote to limit the further debate if they don't come forward and give us the amendments that they want so that we can get it done."
The demise of the immigration bill was widely seen as a major defeat for a politically weakened Bush, who was counting on the compromise as one of the last domestic-policy victories of his presidency. Some critics have blamed the White House for failing to put its muscle behind the legislation, but Bush was traveling in Europe when the Senate decided to end debate. His visit to the Hill on Tuesday will be one of his first moves after returning from overseas.
Bush devoted his Saturday radio address to the bill in an effort to answer concerns raised by many in his own party that the legislation would grant "amnesty" to immigrants already in the U.S. In the address, Bush denied any amnesty was included, arguing that in order to achieve legal status, immigrants would have to meet several requirements, including paying fines and back taxes.
Bush said that he still found the bill lacking in some respects and that he would like to see changes to it as it worked its way through Congress. But he called on the Democratic leadership to reverse course and allow the legislation to be debated again.
"I urge Sen. Reid to act quickly to bring this bill back to the Senate floor for a vote, and I urge senators from both parties to support it," Bush said in the address. "By coming together, we can build an immigration system worthy of this great nation."