WASHINGTON (AP) _ Democrats in the Senate scuttled an end-run move by Republicans on Wednesday to pass some of the most popular elements of President Bush's failed immigration bill, including a $3 billion plan to beef up security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
But after winning a procedural vote, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., immediately announced that the Senate would soon approve the border control money after stripping out policy provisions deemed too harsh by Democrats.
That gesture ended a difficult day in relative peace.
The key 52-44 vote broke largely along party lines. With it, Democrats killed a move by Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to resurrect the border security plan and combine it with GOP-backed policy provisions from last month's immigration debate.
Those provisions were opposed by most Democrats and included allowing law enforcement officers to question people about their immigration status, cracking down on people who overstay their visas, and imposing mandatory prison sentences on illegal border crossers.
Graham sought to add the pared-down immigration plan _ over White House opposition _ to a pending bill to fund the budget for the Homeland Security Department.
The underlying bill had already drawn a veto threat for breaking Bush's budget. White House spokesman Scott Stanzel noted that Wednesday's plan would not have been financed by fines on illegal immigrants as were comparable provisions from the broader bill that died last month; it therefore would have added $3 billion more to the deficit.
Stanzel declined to comment further, but Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., had earlier told reporters that the White House opposed the additional funds.
The peaceful twist came at the end of a behind-the-scenes battle that was started around midday by Graham and other Republicans such as Gregg and Jon Kyl of Arizona. They had previously argued that a comprehensive approach to immigration reform was the only way to tackle such a polarizing issue to attract bipartisan support.
But in the wake of last month's failure to pass Bush's hotly contested comprehensive immigration bill _ decried as ``amnesty'' by conservative talk radio and opposing lawmakers _ Graham and the others changed their minds and offered the border security plan, combined with the tough GOP policy provisions.
Graham and Kyl said the public won't accept more controversial elements, especially the plan to give million of illegal immigrants a way to earn U.S. citizenship, until the porous border with Mexico is made more secure.
``Border security is the gate that you must pass through to get to overall comprehensive reform,'' said Graham, who is up for re-election next year and facing political heat at home for backing Bush's unpopular immigration plan.
The emergency border security funding proposal is similar to one Republicans tacked onto an immigration measure to garner more GOP support for the bill, which died last month. The broader immigration bill had been Bush's top domestic priority.
Democrats had supported that move _ an infusion of $4.4 billion in mandatory funding _ as a way of drawing wider backing for the compromise bill.
But Democrats such as Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts initially objected to the move, which unraveled a difficult-to-negotiate compromise.
``We have tried enforcement-only approaches for 10 years now,'' said Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., a top sponsor of the broader bill. ``And what have been the results? Twelve million people are in the United States illegally.''
Reid mulled his options for hours. It was clear Democrats saw much to like in the border security provisions while they disliked the sharp-edged policy provisions.
``On first glance, there's some stuff in this proposal we can support, but much of it also appears to be pretty objectionable,'' said Jim Manley, spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
The episode was reminiscent of the successful plan last year to pass a bill to build vehicle barriers and 700 miles of fence on the southern border aimed at keeping out illegal immigrants from Mexico and other countries.
That effort was passed under GOP control of the House and Senate after the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration plan and House GOP leaders countered with the border fence initiative.