A last-gasp effort to pass an immigration bill that has long languished in Congress failed Saturday morning, with Democrats failing to muster the 60 votes required to bring the DREAM Act to the floor for a final vote.
The push to resuscitate the bill, which would have created a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who met specific requirements, was not expected to pass amid heated opposition from Republicans and some centrist Democrats, who cast DREAM (the acronym stands for the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act) as an amnesty plan.
“You won’t get many chances in the United States Senate, over the course of your career, to face clear votes on the issue of justice,” Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, one of the bill’s champions, implored his colleagues before the vote. As expected, his argument failed to sway detractors. The 55-41 vote in favor of ending debate — five votes short of the threshold needed to bring the measure to the floor — split largely along party lines. Just three Republicans supported the bill: Senators Richard Lugar of Indiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Bob Bennett of Utah, who is retiring. Five Democrats voted against it: Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
With the GOP set to take over the House next month, today’s cloture vote effectively erases any chance of moving the bill over the next two years, let alone sweeping immigration reform that would address the status of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to press forward with time running out in the lame-duck session galvanized proponents of the bill, who bombarded wavering lawmakers with phone calls, rallied repeatedly and in some cases traveled to Washington to signal their support for the bill, which they say would shore up military recruitment and the economy in addition to sending more immigrants to college.
President Obama called the vote “incredibly disappointing.” “It is not only the right thing to do for talented young people who seek to serve a country they know as their own, it is the right thing for the United States of America. Our nation is enriched by their talents and would benefit from the success of their efforts,” Obama said in a statement Saturday, which noted that Congressional Budget Office has projected that DREAM Act would slice $2.2 billion from the federal deficit over the next decade.
Republicans said the measure amounted to a reward for illegal activity. “If we pass this amnesty, we will signal to the world that we’re not serious about the enforcement of our laws or our borders,” argued Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama. By scuttling a final vote, the GOP won a political victory, but lining up against the bill could also boomerang on them in 2012, when they’ll want to court Hispanic votes. Alienating the fastest-growing minority in the U.S. won’t help them wrest away the presidency.