Will Democrats Capitalize On GOP Disintegration Over Immigration?
Image courtesy of the HuffPost & the AP
A better man and president would have used his bully pulpit and higher approval ratings to fix the immigration problem in this post-9/11 country when he had the political capital to do so. But George W. Bush is not that man or president, and Bush finds himself picking this year to finally engage Congress in a public debate on immigration reform, at a time when he has no chance at controlling his party on the subject. That hasn’t stopped Bush from asking everyone to remain civil in the debates this week on immigration, to be started with hearings at Arlen Specter’s Senate Judiciary Committee. But it is hollow for a man to ask for civility after he politicized a national disaster of his own making with 9/11, after he lied to the American people about Iraq from Day One, and after he allows surrogates to trash the patriotism and character of those who dare to oppose him on any subject.
Basically, the choices facing the Congress on immigration, aside from the politics associated with each one, are these:
1. Do nothing, as Paul Krugman wants, so that it won’t be made worse;
2. Support a balanced approach between strengthening border security and employer sanctions, and implementing an earned citizenship program, as the McCain-Kennedy approach would do;
3. Do as Bush wants, which is to strengthen border security and implement a guest worker program, which is a new GOP form of indentured servitude but which still pisses off his conservative base; and
4. Put your efforts primarily into border security, deportation, and letting employers off the hook, as Bill Frist, James Sensenbrenner, and Tom Tancredo would do.
Because Bush waited until this late in his presidency to roll out any energy on immigration, hoping in a typically Rovian way to capitalize on the issue as a 2006 election motivator for the base, he has also ensured that he will lose control of the matter pretty quickly while watching the issue split his party. A president with approval ratings in the 30’s cannot scare his own party on a domestic issue, and with a flurry of GOP hacks seeing a chance to demagogue this issue for 2008 political gain, Bush has no standing to tell his wing nuts like Tancredo and Frist to rein it in, and Tancredo has already said in essence forget it. Besides, McCain is not likely to back down on an issue that can gain him chits with moderates and even liberals. Furthermore, McCain-Kennedy will garner the support of 44 Senate Democrats and even some GOP moderates, forcing a floor vote upon Bill Frist that he would feel compelled to sabotage, to his detriment and that of the GOP this fall. Harry Reid, to his credit, has threatened to filibuster any harsh alternative put forward by Frist that would scuttle McCain-Kennedy.
But the other interesting dynamic is the problem that Rove has created for himself with Hispanics and the Catholic Church. Rove has blundered his way into energizing both against any GOP effort to criminalize immigrants, as the enormous demonstration this weekend in Los Angeles showed. After working for years to politicize both, especially the Church as an extension of the RNC with much success, Rove is about to see it all come undone as the bishops oppose any measure from the GOP that oppresses or criminalizes immigrants, which is exactly the direction Bush has allowed the GOP to head by waiting this late to act. In fact, after swallowing their opposition to the Iraq war upon orders from the Vatican and endorsing the GOP in 2004 anyway, it is unlikely that the American bishops will sell out immigrants in 2006 just to help the White House, and such a split will show up this fall if with both Hispanics and Catholic voters if Democrats play this the right way. Democrats can offer themselves as the party that can produce a balanced immigration reform package next year that is modeled on McCain-Kennedy if they are given control of Congress this November.
Update: Specter's committee just took its first action to give the finger to conservatives in both houses when it adopted an amendment by Dick Durbin to remove from the House bill a provision that made criminals out of church and volunteer groups for assisting immigrants. This will set off the wing nuts in the Senate like John Cornyn, so the fireworks are underway.
Update #2: Specter got a bill out of his committee today that Kennedy and the rest of the Democrats, along with Lindsey Graham, Sam Brownback, and Mike DeWine supported, which has a guest worker provision for future immigrants that will allow them a chance for future citizenship. This will be too much for conservatives, but Democrats are able to get this to the floor now. All eyes turn to Frist now to see if he will blow this up. Specter made a last-minute attempt for a grand compromise today that would please more Republicans, but was rebuffed because the proposal wasn't vetted with Senators in advance, and appeared to conservatives like amnesty for those already here illegally. However, after Dianne Feinstein flamed Frist today for imposing a Tuesday deadline on something that the GOP has let slide for months and years, Specter surprised some by directing that Feinstein's slap at Frist be sent to the Majority Leader with Specter's support.