WASHINGTON – Agreeing to give a fitful set of bipartisan talks more time to yield an immigration deal, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday he would delay a vote on the issue until next Wednesday.
The move postponed — at least for a day — what was shaping up as a partisan clash over immigration after weeks of negotiations between the White House and senators in both parties designed to strike a broad compromise.
With that agreement still elusive, Reid is planning to force debate next week on an immigration measure that passed the Senate last year with wide Democratic backing but opposition by a majority of Republicans. GOP senators have promised to block that move, saying they will only accept a new bipartisan compromise.
"Some of the senators feel that there's a breakthrough that could take place" in talks over the weekend and early next week, said Reid, D-Nev., adding that he would "reluctantly" postpone the test-vote, which he had set for Tuesday. He has now set the vote for next Wednesday.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the move would "give us the maximum opportunity to piece back together the bipartisan agreement that we thought we almost had a week or so ago."
Talks are continuing on the possible deal, which would first secure the U.S.-Mexico border and implement an elaborate high-tech identification system for immigrant workers, and only then give millions of illegal immigrants a chance at legal status — after waits as long as 13 more years.
Many Democrats and Republicans are wary of such an agreement, which also would limit immigrants' ability to bring their families to the U.S. Democrats fear it will be rejected as too punitive by their liberal base, while Republicans are concerned about alienating conservatives by appearing to treat illegal immigrants too leniently.
President Bush plans to use his Saturday weekly radio address to urge Congress to reshape immigration laws.