WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republicans on Tuesday accused Democrats of trying to rush a vote on immigration reform, casting doubt on the fate of the White House-backed bill that would tighten border security and legalize millions of illegal immigrants.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he wanted to close debate on the bill by this week’s end despite Republicans’ objections, which could doom the fragile compromise legislation that backers say would help fix a broken immigration system through which millions of illegal immigrants have slipped into the United States.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said his fellow Republicans had a number of amendments they wanted considered before voting on the bill.
But Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said Republicans were stalling.
“What we have heard today are buzzwords for ‘this bill is going nowhere,'” Reid said in a Senate floor exchange with McConnell.
Reid said he planned to set a Senate vote for Thursday on his motion to limit debate, and it was unclear with Republican objections that it would garner the 60 votes needed in the 100-member chamber to advance the bill toward passage.
Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican who helped broker the bill, said cutting off debate “would be a big mistake” that could “risk the bill not passing at all.”
The bill, worked out by a bipartisan group of senators and the White House, ties tough border security and workplace enforcement measures to a guest-worker program and a plan to legalize the millions of immigrants.
It has come under attack from the right and left, with conservatives arguing it will give amnesty to people who broke U.S. laws and unions saying the temporary worker program will create an underclass of cheap laborers.
As Senate leaders argued over timing, the bill’s backers sought to hold the bill together after senators returned from a week-long break having heard concerns from constituents and armed with amendments that could shatter the compromise.
Senators on Tuesday overwhelmingly accepted an amendment that would require employers to try to recruit American workers before employing someone from another country under the guest worker program.
But they rejected a measure that would have made it more difficult for illegal immigrants to obtain permanent resident status.
The bill faces other challenges, including an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, that would bar immigrants who ignored deportation orders and other felons from taking advantage of the legalization program. Democrats argued the proposal would exclude many farm workers and other immigrants whose only crime was to enter the United States seeking jobs.
Proposed Democratic amendments to change limits on family-based immigration could undermine Republican support for the bill, senators said.
The Senate debate is being closely watched by members of the House of Representatives, which will take up its own version of immigration legislation if the bill passes the Senate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, has said she wants significant Republican support, but that could be difficult.