WASHINGTON – Despite the collapse of a bipartisan deal on immigration, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed optimism Sunday that senators can pass a bill when they return from vacation.
"I think tempers will cool over a two-week period," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. "And also, there are going to be some expressions by many people very unhappy with the Senate not passing a bill and very unhappy with the House bill" that would make being an illegal immigrant a felony.
"There's a real risk of significant political fallout here, and members of the Senate think about that, believe it or not," Specter said on "FOX News Sunday."
However, in a sign of the difficulties that lie ahead, two key House Republicans said they disagreed with Senate provisions that — if passed — would pave the way for eventual legal status for millions of illegal immigrants in the United States.
"Until we begin to secure our borders and enforce our immigration laws, I don't think we ought to be talking about a more comprehensive approach," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, on ABC's "This Week."
Last week, a Senate bill hailed as a bipartisan breakthrough in an election year fell victim to internal disputes in both parties as well as political maneuvering.
On the key vote, only 38 senators, all Democrats, lined up in support. That was 22 short of the 60 needed, and left the legislation in limbo.
Specter on Sunday pledged to have legislation ready for debate soon after lawmakers return from their two-week recess.
President Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and other Republican leaders accused Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, of constricting the Senate by refusing to permit votes on several Republican amendments.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and other opponents have expressed frustration that they were unable to gain votes on proposals to toughen enforcement or to leave immigration policy unchanged until the border had been made secure.
The bill would have provided for stronger border security, regulated the future entry of foreign workers and created a complex set of regulations for the estimated 11 million immigrants illegally in the United States.
"I think when we come back from recess, we'll get a bill," Specter said. "Everyone agrees there's an enormous problem. There's general agreement that we have to craft a compromise."
Frist has stopped short of a commitment to bring another immigration bill to the floor by year's end. "I intend to," he said Friday, adding that it would ultimately depend on the schedule, already crowded with other legislation.
Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he would have trouble with provisions providing legal status for illegal immigrants already here. He called the Senate plan a "bureaucracy of rubber stamps" that rewards people who break the law.
In recent weeks, thousands of immigrant rights supporters — many of them Hispanic — have rallied in opposition to some of the immigration proposals, expressing concern about stiff criminal penalties and calling illegal immigrants important to the U.S. economy.
Additional protests are planned in dozens of cities in the coming days.
"With the intelligence reports we have of terrorists trying to be smuggled into the country ... we cannot be doing anything which is going to encourage more illegals to come into the country," said King, R-N.Y., who appeared with Specter on Fox News.
"The Senate, I think, was, quite frankly, intimidated by having hundreds of thousands of people in the streets waving flags, but I don't think we should pass legislation or devise legislation based on how many people you can get out into the street," he said.