Friday, May 11, 2007

THE HILL: Reid: Bush must push his party forward on immigration reform

Reid: Bush must push his party forward on immigration reform
By Elana Schor
May 11, 2007

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) yesterday implored President Bush to intervene personally in his chamber’s bipartisan immigration talks, as time grew shorter for a deal that would avert a looming GOP filibuster.

Republicans struck an optimistic note after an afternoon huddle where their immigration negotiators briefed members on the outline that has earned the cautious approval of both parties’ emissaries. But many Republicans remain determined to derail any debate on last year’s immigration bill, which Reid has offered as a placeholder to buy time for further talks if a full agreement does not appear by next week.

The White House has sent two Cabinet secretaries and several senior aides to the table on immigration, but Reid told reporters that Bush’s personal involvement in the process could make the difference.

“We’re asking him, pleading with him to get involved,” Reid said, adding: “The president is going to have to tell his Republicans, ‘I want a bill.’ Right now these are broad concepts.”

If an immigration reform bill does not emerge after this go-round, Reid continued, Bush “can no longer go around the country saying, ‘I want comprehensive immigration reform.’”

Even as some Republicans edge closer to a procedural filibuster on last year’s immigration bill, which almost half of their conference supported at the time, others have lauded Reid for keeping the pressure on by sticking to his deadline of next week. Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said Reid, a former boxer, was enacting the “delicate dance” required of majority leaders, but Lott scoffed at the notion that Bush was not doing enough to encourage a deal.

“What do they want him to do, come over here and start writing out the bill into law? Get real,” Lott said.
Lott acknowledged that unless new legislation is available to call up before Reid moves to proceed to last year’s Senate-passed immigration bill, Republicans will probably object. The time for that final showdown remains unclear, but senators were eyeing a late vote on Tuesday.

Reid admitted that even he “wasn’t really wild about” last year’s immigration bill, which never reached a conference with the more conservative House under GOP control. This year’s framework is viewed as more hard-line than the previous version, and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said he has at times questioned Democrats’ willingness to move rightward in search of a consensus.

“The White House doesn’t seem to have tiptoed away from last year’s bipartisan position,” Menendez told reporters. “It seems they’ve taken a huge leap backward.”

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel defended Bush’s involvement in the immigration talks, noting via e-mail that Bush has called for an immigration deal at congressional retreats and multiple leadership meetings in addition to public appearances.

“He will continue to speak out about the issue and urge Congress to enact legislation he can sign into law this year,” Stanzel said.

But Tony Snow, chief White House spokesman, backed the spirit of Reid’s effort to move on last year’s bill during his briefing yesterday: “[Reid is] trying to create a placeholder so that those involved can have the time to be able to drop that other bill, and we appreciate it.”

Meanwhile, Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) outlined their must-have reform provisions alongside Reagan administration Attorney General Edwin Meese. The two senators are staunch supporters of escalated border enforcement before any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. DeMint and Sessions declared last year’s immigration bill dead on arrival, as did Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

“This year, given the politics of the House with [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) saying she wants 70 Republicans [backing immigration reform] … what we do in the Senate, I think, will be the bill,” Graham told reporters.

And time is running out for that bill. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) acknowledged the daunting workload Democratic leaders aim to complete before taking Memorial Day recess: the budget conference report, a Senate supplemental and likely supplemental conference report, and the labyrinthine immigration measure.

Yet Durbin dismissed the option of moving on to another bill next week to give immigration negotiators more time. That said, the two weeks cordoned off for immigration would be abruptly freed up should Republicans follow through on a procedural filibuster.

“We’re likely to move to a different bill,” Durbin said. “It might be energy.”


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