March 13, 2007 -- Kennedy, Eager for Republican Support, Shifts Tactics on an Immigration Measure -- By RACHEL L. SWARNS
WASHINGTON, March 12 — Facing a rebellion from some crucial Republicans, Senator Edward M. Kennedy has abandoned efforts to produce a new immigration bill and is proposing using legislation produced last March by the Senate Judiciary Committee, then controlled by Republicans, as the starting point for negotiations this year, lawmakers said Monday.
Mr. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who is a principal architect of immigration legislation in the Senate, now controlled by Democrats, said he was shifting gears in hopes of winning Republican support and speeding the passage of immigration legislation this spring. Four of 10 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted last year for the committee’s bill, which would tighten border security, create a temporary worker program and legalize illegal immigrants.
President Bush said Monday in Guatemala that he hoped to see an immigration bill completed by the fall and that he was working with Republicans to define a position most could support. “If we don’t have enough consensus,” Mr. Bush said, “nothing is going to move out of the Senate.”
Mr. Kennedy and a Republican colleague, Senator John McCain of Arizona, had spent several months trying to produce a new immigration bill that was expected to be introduced this month. But several Republicans protested that they had been shut out of the negotiations. They began drafting their own bill, led by Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Republican moderate who led the debate on immigration in the Judiciary Committee last year.
Meanwhile, Mr. McCain, who led Republican lawmakers in championing immigration legislation last year, has appeared to be backing away from that role, several Congressional aides said.
Conservatives have sharply criticized Mr. McCain, a leading Republican presidential candidate, for supporting efforts to put illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship.
Senior aides in both parties said Mr. McCain told several colleagues last week that he was stepping away from the bill because he was troubled by labor provisions it included. Eileen McMenamin, a spokeswoman for Mr. McCain, disputed that assertion, saying he “remains committed to passing a comprehensive immigration bill.”
Mr. Kennedy said that he hoped Mr. McCain would continue to be deeply involved in the push for immigration legislation but that he would “certainly understand” if he could not be, given the demands of the presidential campaign.
“We will value as much time and effort and energy as he can put into this,” Mr. Kennedy said in an interview. “I recognize that he’s a presidential candidate and that’s going to take a big part of his time.”
Mr. Kennedy dismissed the notion that his efforts to produce a new immigration bill had failed. He said he had decided that the committee report was “the best starting point” because it had bipartisan support and because it would allow lawmakers to move swiftly toward passage, with a vote as early as May.
“We’ve had extensive hearings on the essential aspects of this bill,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We are effectively ready for markup and going to the floor.”
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