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Immigration bill collapse could hurt, or help, McCain

Story Highlights

• Collapse of immigration bill could viewed as a failure by Sen. John McCain
• Arizona Republican was a vocal backer of the compromise legislation
• Conservatives dubbed provisions of the bill amnesty for illegal immigrants
• Bill's collapse could help presidential nominee by keeping issue off the front page
By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Is there likely to be political fallout from the immigration vote?

The failure of the immigration bill certainly looks like a defeat for John McCain.

McCain championed a bill that was deeply unpopular with the conservative base. Rival presidential contender Tom Tancredo called the collapse of the immigration deal a "death knell'' for McCain's candidacy.

"It probably means there will never be a President John McCain,'' Tancredo said on Iowa Public Television.

The fact that the deal failed in the Senate -- with Republicans voting 38-7 against it -- looks like a failure of leadership. From President Bush, certainly, but possibly also from Sen. McCain, who was a principal architect of the deal. (Watch how the immigration bill collapsed Video)

"We need to act, my friends, and if someone else has a better idea, I'd love to have them give it to us," McCain said during CNN's June 3 debate in New Hampshire.

Potential rival and former Sen. Fred Thompson took McCain up on his challenge. "You have to secure the border first before you do anything else," Thompson said.

On the other hand, the bill failed. That could satisfy critics -- and get the controversy out of the headlines. It would certainly be in McCain's interest for the campaign to move on.

But the immigration problem is not going away. "We're finished with this for the time being," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor.

McCain said in Iowa on Friday, "It's not over. We still have broken borders, and we still have this problem of not finding out who these people are.''

McCain also said during the debate, "This isn't the bill that I would have written." (Watch the GOP candidates debate immigration reform Video)

For many Americans, the collapse of the immigration deal doesn't bring satisfaction. It brings frustration. The system failed.

"There's lots of support for this bill on the outside," Reid said. "The problem was in the inside of this Senate chamber."

McCain is running on a promise that he can fix the system. "It's our job to do the hard things, not the easy things," he said.

The Senate deal was much too complicated. Now that it has failed, it may be easier to have a serious debate about each issue separately. And it could give McCain the opportunity to offer a bill more to his liking.


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Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, defended the immigration bill despite strong conservative opposition.

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