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Senate immigration bill suffers crushing defeat

Story Highlights

• NEW: "It's a sad day for America," says Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Backers were "trying to work a compromise to pass something," says opponent
Bush says "Congress must prove ... it can come together on hard issues"
• Bill was centerpiece of Bush's 2nd term; aimed at legalizing 12 million
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Opponents effectively killed President Bush's long-fought and emotion-laden Senate immigration bill Thursday when members voted against advancing the controversial legislation.

The tally was 46 to 53, 14 votes shy of the 60 needed to end debate.

The president, who visited the Capitol this month to push hard for overhauling the nation's immigration laws, delivered a brief statement shortly after the vote saying he was "sorry" Congress could not reach agreement, calling its "failure to act" a "disappointment." (Watch Bush explain why he was disappointed by the vote Video)

"Congress really needs to prove to the American people that it can come together on hard issues," Bush said.

The bill aimed to create a path to citizenship for some of the 12 million illegal immigrants and to toughen border security.

Explaining his reasons for voting against the bill, GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions, a leading critic of the measure, said "it would not work."

"Our analysis was that it would result in 8.7 million more people in the next 20 years here illegally," said the Alabama senator.

Thursday's vote represented a "sad day for America," said Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York. (See how your senators voted)

"Everyone knows that our immigration laws are broken," Schumer said. "And a country loses some of its greatness when it can't fix a problem that everyone knows is broken. And that's what happened today."

Supporters and opponents of the controversial legislation said that it probably won't be resurrected until after the 2008 elections.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff echoed Bush, expressing his disappointment.

"I'm disappointed about the fact that there were some necessary tools which we needed to be able to do more than we can currently do in enforcing the law that were left on the floor of the Senate today," Chertoff said.

Among those tools, Chertoff said, were a mandatory employment verification system, tamper proof cards for undocumented workers, additional penalties, procedural tools and $4.4 billion in additional funds "that would have been a welcome resource." (Watch Video)

Enforcement issues were a main concern for Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, who said his vote against the bill sent a crystal clear message "that the American people want us to start with enforcement, both at the border and at the workplace, and don't want promises. They want action, they want results, they want proof, because they've heard all the promises before."

Sessions said there would be "no permanent hard feelings over this among the people who wanted to pass a bill they thought would help America."

Backers of the bill, Sessions said, were simply "trying to work a compromise to pass something" and called on members next time to pass legislation that "will work."

The controversial bill won support and derision from both sides of the political aisle. Those voting in favor included 12 Republicans. Sixteen Democrats voted against it and 18 senators switched their votes from an earlier vote to advance the bill on Tuesday.

Those who voted no Thursday included three Democratic freshman -- Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Virginia Sen. Jim Webb -- who won close races last year against conservative Republicans.

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy expressed optimism that the fight over immigration was a step forward that could ultimately lead to new laws within the next few years. "You cannot stop the march for progress in the United States," he said. "And on this issue, I have every hope and every expectation that we'll be ultimately successful." (Watch Democratic leaders express optimism about future immigration reform Video)

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid said the defeat is "not a time for pointing fingers. It's not a time for casting blame. It's a time for recognition that immigration is a problem that needs to be fixed."

On Wednesday, supporters beat back a number of potentially fatal amendments.

Proponents won a major victory with defeat of an amendment removing the bill's most controversial feature -- a path to legalization and eventual citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country, which critics charge amounts to amnesty.

Also defeated Wednesday was an amendment by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, that would have required adult illegal immigrants to return to their home country within two years in order to apply for a new type of visa that will allow them to stay in the United States indefinitely.

CNN Correspondents Dana Bash and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.

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A U.S. Border Patrol officer arrests a man along the Mexican border this week.


Here are the 18 senators who switched their votes between Tuesday and Thursday on the immigration bill:

• Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-New Mexico
• Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Missouri
• Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio
• Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas
• Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina
• Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minnesota
• Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine
• Sen. Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico
• Sen. John Ensign, R-Nevada
• Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa
• Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky
• Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska
• Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska
• Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Arkansas
• Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska
• Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio
• Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia
• Sen. James Webb, D-Virginia


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