The immigration reform bill cobbled together by a bipartisan group of about a dozen senators was a true compromise in the sense that there was something in it for everyone to hate. Thus, senators on the left and right tried to change it with amendments, undoing the compromise.
The amendments, combined with growing opposition to the measure among both conservatives and liberals, essentially killed the bill Thursday night.
It was a defeat for the bipartisan group that had been working on the compromise for three months; the presidential campaign of one from their ranks, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and the unpopular President Bush, not necessarily in that order.
One of the leading critics of the bill, Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., said he fought to defeat it because it wouldn't provide better border security.
"Out our way, we call it 'all hat and no cattle.' Nothing would do anything about security," he said on "Good Morning America."
Shortly before 9 p.m. Thursday, a procedural motion that had come to represent the bill's life or death achieved a vote of 50 against the bill to 45 for it. Even some of those in the original bipartisan coalition that had put the bill together and announced it to great fanfare on May 17 — Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. — voted against the measure, joined by 11 Democrats.
Seven Republicans, including McCain, Nebraska's Chuck Hagel and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham voted for the procedural motion in favor of the bill.
"We're going to take the bill off the Senate floor, but there are ways we could do this," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who described one of his colleagues, an author of the bill, as crying in his office. "There could be an agreement. … Hopefully, we could do that in the next several weeks."
The previous two days were marked by the Senate Democratic and Republican leaders wrangling over how many amendments Republicans would be permitted to offer.
Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky blamed the Democrats for not allowing the Republicans to introduce enough amendments.
"I think we're giving up on this bill too soon," McConnell said.
But Reid complained that Republicans were never able to specify how many amendments they wanted to offer, making Democrats suspicious that their intent was to nibble the bill to death.
"We spent so much time on this bill trying to make people happy on this bill who weren't going to vote for the bill anyway," Reid said.
Republicans, conversely, said that a more gifted Senate leader could have satisfied Republican calls for more amendments and achieved the bill he wanted.
The president, overseas at the G-8 Summit, did not immediately comment, but the failure of what he hoped would be a major legislative achievement during his final two years would surely not come as good news for a president eager to line up achievements for the history books.
Earlier in the day, as Reid tried to force the measure to a vote, he said, "Someone should get word to the president that if this bill goes down with the vast majority of the Democrats voting for this … the headline's going to be 'Democrats Vote to Continue the Bill, Republicans Vote Against It, the President Fails Again.'"