Robert Novak

Teddy Kennedy had no trouble disobeying labor's marching orders by voting against Dorgan, but only 10 other Democratic senators had the courage to follow that course. Sen. Hillary Clinton, the presidential front-runner, as expected walked the union line. Obama's vote for the poison pill was unexpected because he had participated, uninvited, one time in the bipartisan negotiating process. He had demanded and won a provision permitting immigrants to stay on the job after being designated "not employable" by the government under the new system until their appeals were exhausted. Obama's support for the Dorgan amendment then infuriated Republicans in the negotiating group who had opposed the concession to the presidential candidate.

DeMint was but one of 10 Republicans who went with organized labor's killer amendment, but he was special for two reasons. First, when an earlier version of the Dorgan amendment lost 49 to 48, DeMint voted the other way. Second, DeMint openly admitted he changed his vote only to kill the bill.

Sen. Jon Kyl, the conservative chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, was not pleased. Having risked the wrath of anti-immigration forces back home in Arizona to collaborate with Teddy Kennedy in the interests of solving the immigration problem, he was not impressed by DeMint's candor. "I didn't care for it," Kyl told me. "He voted for the amendment to kill the bill. It was a poison pill."

Removing the poison will not be easy, but a start was made this week with unusual effort from President Bush. When Bush on Tuesday attended the weekly luncheon of Republican senators for the second time in his presidency, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich e-mailed Senate staffers that "the Bush administration is determined to force [the immigration bill] through with raw power." Gingrich sent confrontational talking points for the aides to give their senators when they met the president. There is no sign any of them were used Tuesday during a civil encounter that perhaps promises a better performance ahead by the Senate.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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