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The two-week Easter break for Congress ends today, and the immigration debate begins anew. The New York Times reports that both parties in the Senate have expressed a desire to get a bill passed well before the elections but refuse to be "stampeded", as Arlen Specter put it:
Prodded by large demonstrations and the prospect of another on the horizon, Senate leaders will try to revive stalled immigration legislation this week, with some urging President Bush to mediate personally the sharp differences among Republicans on the volatile issue.
Two weeks after the Senate walked away from its immigration debate, leaders of both parties are expressing a new sense of urgency to act before the November midterm elections. Mr. Bush, who has made an immigration bill a centerpiece of his legislative agenda and who could use a victory on Capitol Hill to revive his flagging second term, is expected to address the issue again on Monday in an appearance in Irvine, Calif.
"This is a top priority, and the president wants to see the Congress press ahead and get something done, in a comprehensive way," the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, told reporters on Sunday.
After an Easter recess punctuated by large immigrant rights protests, both Democrats and Republicans say their colleagues recognize that if they do not press ahead it could stir a reaction from those who want stricter border enforcement, business operators who rely on foreign workers and advocates of immigrant rights.
Bush has given his point of view on immigration in broad strokes; he favors stronger border controls and normalization of the existing illegal population. The Senate approach comes closest to his stated goals, and so far he has remained on the sidelines because most of the debate has been focused on points that, in his mind, are more minor than significant. The problem comes from the radically different approach taken by House Republicans, an approach much closer to that favored by the GOP rank and file, and the Senators of both parties know that any conference committee will radically change their amnesty-lite program.
How does Bush "lead" this debate, and do we want him to do so? Having never been a fan of the President's approach on this topic, I'd prefer he stay sidelined while the people who still have to face voters hash it out. The Bush strategy has focused on the people inside the country first and gives short shrift (at least so far) to credible border security. I suspect that any Bush leadership on this issue will put him pretty close to the McCain-Kennedy position -- and I suspect that Harry Reid believes the same thing. That's why Reid has suddenly become a cheerleader for White House interference in a Senate negotiation.
The Senators just took two weeks off to get back in touch with their constituents, a break they said they needed to understand more clearly the wishes of the people back home. Supposedly, they now have their temperature taken. The President can't help them understand the specifics of the debate nor the opinions of their voters any better than they already do. They need to come to an understanding that any approach that will pass both houses of Congress will have to address the needs expressed by the House as well as their own inclinations towards liberalization of the existing illegals. The only path to get to that point requires credible border security as a prerequisite for any normalization process.
Will the Senate actually pass legislation? Unlike two weeks ago, I believe they will. The Democrats may have believed that a failure to pass legislation hurt the GOP, but during the two-week recess it looks like they discovered that voters on all sides of the debate want the issue settled. Activists for illegal immigrants recognize that the demonstrations have put some at risk of discovery and deportation, and the recent IFCO raids underscored that. If the federal government starts conducting raids in earnest and pushing for long prison sentences for the hiring managers who commit fraud themselves to use illegals, then a lot of illegals will lose jobs and get deported, and the question will become more or less moot. It's now in the interest of Democrats to get the problem resolved, or at least to a vote.
Politics is the art of compromise, and the bottom line is that some people are going to be unhappy with whatever gets passed. Neither house of Congress offers a wholesale roundup of the illegals in the country; the House addressed border security, while the Senate focused on normalization. It doesn't take a genius to understand that simply combining the two would satisfy the largest number of people while having the best chance of passing into law. In the end, given the sharp divisions of the electorate, it probably provides the best reflection of voter desire. By the end of May, that's what we will have. As long as the border truly gets secured -- something that the US has never really tried -- it should be enough.Sphere It View blog reactions
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