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September 5, 2006
Will The GOP Dump Immigration Reform

Republicans have shelved their efforts on immigration reform, the New York Times reoprts, preferring to focus on national security in the legislative session preceding the midterm elections. The move comes as a summer series of hearings did nothing to bridge the differences between the two chambers of Congress on the issue:

As they prepare for a critical pre-election legislative stretch, Congressional Republican leaders have all but abandoned a broad overhaul of immigration laws and instead will concentrate on national security issues they believe play to their political strength.

With Congress reconvening Tuesday after an August break, Republicans in the House and Senate say they will focus on Pentagon and domestic security spending bills, port security legislation and measures that would authorize the administration’s terror surveillance program and create military tribunals to try terror suspects.

“We Republicans believe that we have no choice in the war against terror and the only way to do it is to continue to take them head-on whether it is in Iraq or elsewhere,” said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the majority leader.

A final decision on what do about immigration policy awaits a meeting this week of senior Republicans. But key lawmakers and aides who set the Congressional agenda say they now believe it would be politically risky to try to advance an immigration measure that would showcase party divisions and need to be completed in the 19 days Congress is scheduled to meet before breaking for the election.

As I reported here last week, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist intends to focus on those issues which he believes will demonstrate the differences between Republicans and Democrats. He and the House leadership want to force a series of votes that can be used effectively to argue for a return of GOP leadership. However, he did state that border security would be a component of that effort:

I want to do port security, I want to address the Bolton nomination, I want to address the Hamdan decision on these security issues, I want to address the Specter-FISA compromise. That right there – I’ve only got 15 legislative days, so you can imagine the challenge. ...

We need real clarification on a range of issues of what are the differences between Democrats and Republicans. I’d march down the list: prevailing versus cutting and running, strong border protection versus porous borders, tax cuts versus tax hikes, affordable health care versus predatory trial lawyers driving up costs, energy independence versus energy dependence, common-sense judges versus activist judges.

Floor time I’m going to spend on security. I’ve probably been in 75 meetings in the last three weeks like we just did, where it’s not hard-core politics but just listening to people, and everything keeps gravitating back to that.

Arlen Specter warned of "justifiable anger" if Congress does nothing to resolve the immigration problem. However, Frist and Denny Hastert have probably concluded that no bill works better for keeping conservatives in the tent than a bad bill, especially the McCain-Kennedy bill that sets up another amnesty program.

Frist may try fielding a border-security bill along the lines of what the House has approved as a step towards resolving immigration; at least his answer in our interview suggests that approach. Democrats would certainly oppose any attempt to divorce border security from immigration reform -- and perhaps a few Republicans not running for re-election -- giving voters another issue on which to judge national-security bona fides. If Democrats are forced to vote against border security, or more likely to filibuster it, it will provide Republicans with a powerful talking point for the midterms.

For that reason, although the Times may have it technically right, I suspect that Frist has a plan to force a vote on strengthening the border. We already know that Congress has deadlocked on the issue so badly that a conference committee would hardly be able to move. I'd expect Frist to try to move the House bill to the Senate floor and let the chips fall where they may. With an overwhelming majority of voters wanting the southern border secured, the issue is a natural winner for the GOP.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 5, 2006 5:17 AM

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» GOP To Put Immigration On Backburner from Stop The ACLU
The NY Times reports that the GOP will be putting the controversial immigration issue on the backburner and focusing more on national security issues. I’m not quite sure that this is the best strategy as it is one of the most important issues t... [Read More]

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