WASHINGTON — A bipartisan attempt to secure thousands of visas for Afghan interpreters who risked their lives to assist American troops in the war in Afghanistan stalled on Tuesday, when the Senate passed a version of the massive defense spending bill that omitted the amendment backed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.).
The seemingly uncontroversial amendment, which extends the existing special immigrant visa program for one year and allocates an additional 2,500 visas for the program, never had a vote on the Senate floor. In an effort to force a vote on his unrelated amendment, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), blocked votes on several amendments, including the Shaheen provision, which the Utah senator said he supported.
Over the course of a days-long feud in the lead-up to Tuesday’s vote, McCain accused Lee of “signing death warrants” for Afghan interpreters, many of whom have been threatened by the Taliban for their assistance to U.S. troops.
Lee rebuffed McCain’s accusations, noting that he would vote in favor of visas for Afghan interpreters — but only if McCain, the committee chairman, allowed the legislative body to vote on Lee’s amendment to prevent U.S. citizens from being detained indefinitely.
In an embarrassing display of congressional dysfunction, the lawmakers never overcame the impasse — and the Afghan interpreters are left with a program that expires in months and is running out of visas.
“It’s unconscionable that the Senate has turned its back on the brave Afghan men and women who put their lives on the line to support our troops … For many of them, this could be a death sentence,” Shaheen said in a statement after the vote on Tuesday, pledging to look for another legislative path to pass the amendment.
They did something similar to Iraqi terps. That was the state department.