President George Bush appears upbeat in his assessments that comprehensive immigration reform can be passed any day now — despite widespread opposition from his own party and political base.
With rising disapproval ratings from a public anxious to end the war in Iraq, the president has turned to Republicans in the Senate to help pass a controversial immigration-reform measure. The trouble is that many of his colleagues are still trying to learn how to swallow a measure some have labeled as amnesty for illegal immigrants now in the country.
But there is a new proposal on the table that might enable some who are on the sidelines to take a different look at the bill and give Bush a legislative victory for which he is desperate. Some critics are already calling the $4 billion in added appropriations a bribe, while supporters say it will help buy more border security. The real question is, will it make comprehensive immigration reform more palatable to the Republican opposition?
Soon after Bush left Capitol Hill this week, Senate Democratic and Republican leaders begin crafting yet another amendment that could assuage the fears of those who believe the current compromise is simply more of the same. The Gregg Amendment calls for a and increase of 200,000 border patrol agents (talk about a full-employment program), 300 additional miles of vehicle barriers, 105 radar and camera towers and an increase in detention beds.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who represents a border state and has been keenly involved in orchestrating the new amendment, believes this amendment will help "move the bill forward." Will this amendment, which ensures proper funding of border security and workplace enforcement, finally make the comprehensive immigration bill easier for some conservatives to swallow? Or will they have to wash this down with a lot more amendments that could easily derail the so-called "Grand Bargain?"
Bush must now show greater leadership in persuading Senate Republicans to ignore their highly motivated base, which has been adamantly opposed to anything other than rounding up every undocumented worker and shipping them across the borders from whence they come. It will be a hard task for the president, who once inspired fear in his opponents, to convince these lawmakers not to block efforts to pass tough, fair and practical immigration reform now. One thing is for sure: They cannot place the defeat of this measure at the doorstep of the Democrats.
Under Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's leadership, the Democrats have gone out of their way to demonstrate their willingness to compromise on this important Bush initiative. Just last year, before cloture (cutting off debate) was successfully invoked, the Senate had disposed of 30 amendments on a comprehensive immigration bill, with 23 roll call votes. Since the newly printed bill has been on the floor, the U.S. Senate has disposed of 41 amendments, with 28 roll call votes. That's a lot of amendments, but the Republicans want more time to debate.
When Bush appeared on the Hill to rally his devoted flock, his message was simple enough: "… (N)ow is the time to move a comprehensive bill that enforces our borders and has good workplace enforcement; that doesn't grant automatic citizenship; that addresses this problem in a comprehensive way. … The status quo is unacceptable." A few days later, Bush said: "We have an historic window of opportunity to act now. Now is the time to get it done. We've got to summon the political courage to move forward on comprehensive reform. Doing nothing is not a solution."
The window is surely closing fast with the fate of comprehensive immigration reform, like so many other important legislative priorities, resting with the president's ability to twist arms, charm opponents and to overcome something the White House is in short supply off: humility. Perhaps with this new amendment, which contains enough money to secure the borders, the president may have hit his mark.
The future of comprehensive immigration reform now lies at the doorsteps of the president and the Republicans on Capitol Hill. Reid has agreed to bring this bill back to the floor once more if the Republicans are ready to back the president and stop the saber rattling from those wishing to do nothing. This is not a perfect bill, but the country sorely needs something to close our borders, enforce our laws and give those here a reason to come out from the shadows.
Bush, McCain and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., deserve some credit for bringing about a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration-reform package that strengthens border security, reunites families, creates tough and smart workplace enforcement, and brings millions of people into the light of our society.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR, contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, and former campaign manager for Al Gore.