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Senate, House Set for Immigration Showdown


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

The Senate is set to vote today on a sweeping revision of immigration policy, the first in two decades. A test vote yesterday indicated ample bipartisan support for the bill. If it passes, there would be a showdown with the House over its version of the bill.

Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

After a filibuster averting vote yesterday of 73 to 25 limited further debate on the immigration bill, opponents tried in vain to kill the legislation with poison pill amendments. Their last minute push left one of the bill's most vocal supporters, Arizona Republican John McCain, exasperated.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): You want an immigration bill or not? I understand there are members in this body who will answer that question with a resounding no. However, I believe that's not the true intent of the majority of this body.

WELNA: Another of the bill's supporters, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, summed up the ambivalent feelings many senators have towards a complex piece of legislation that's loaded with controversial provisions.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): There are plenty of things wrong with this bill, but there are plenty of things right with it too.

WELNA: But a fierce opponent of the bill, Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, accused his colleagues of having rushed it through without fully considering its implications.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): I think we have made some progress, actually, in making this legislation better since it's been on the floor. But the flaws are so significant, and the issues that are important to immigration have been so little addressed in many key areas, that we ought not to go forwards. We should pull the bilk and get a better one.

WELNA: But everything indicates the Senate will pass its immigration bill, which most notably gives millions of illegal immigrants a chance to become U.S. citizens. Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel, who helped craft the compromised bill, noted yesterday that its next stop will be a House Senate conference committee. Its job is to reconcile the bill with a border security and enforcement-heavy bill from the House.

Senator CHUCK HAGEL (Republican, Nebraska): Some of the talk that I've heard from various people about this is going to be a disaster, or we're going to blow it all up in conference, that's not going to happen.

WELNA: With President Bush having weighed in on immigration in a speech to the nation last week, congressional Republicans are feeling considerable pressure from the White House to enact legislation. After House Republicans met yesterday with White House Emissary Karl Rove to discuss immigration, Majority Whip Roy Blunt sounded conciliatory.

Representative Whip ROY BLUNT (Majority Whip; Republican, Montana): I'm confident that if we both say it's going to be the Senate bill or no bill, or the House bill or no bill, there'll be no bill. But if we're willing to go in and work this out, I can see a way that we could possibly put a bill on the president's desk that dealt with more than border security, possibly less than citizenship.

WELNA: What House Republicans say they won't accept is anything seen as amnesty.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna
David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.