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Bush hopes to revive immigration bill

Associated Press | June 9, 2007
CHARLES BABINGTON

President Bush, trying to recover from a stinging setback on immigration, will personally try in a visit to the Capitol next week to revive the embattled plan for legalizing millions of unlawful immigrants.

Bush's scheduled lunch on Tuesday with GOP senators is part of a campaign by the White House and allies in both parties to placate or outmaneuver conservative Republicans who blocked the broad immigration measure this week. They said Friday they would try again to reach accord on the number of amendments the dissidents could offer.

Opponents of the bill promised to continue fighting all such efforts.

Democratic leaders accused Bush of being too tepid in pushing the legislation, which would tighten borders and offer employers more temporary workers from abroad in addition to providing lawful status to an estimated 12 million illegal aliens and putting many of them on a path toward citizenship

Many Republicans defended the president's role. But the bill's backers nonetheless welcomed his plan to attend the GOP senators' weekly luncheon in the Capitol for the first time in five years.

The visit was scheduled before this week's immigration votes, and Bush will discuss numerous subjects with Republican senators, said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel. "But certainly immigration is a topic" high on the list, he said.

Senate backers of the immigration bill fell 15 votes short of the 60 needed Thursday to limit debate and allow a vote on the measure itself. Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record), D-Nev., then set the measure aside, calling it "the president's bill" and saying Bush's direct intervention was crucial to reviving it.

On Friday, some key Republicans agreed. "Whose bill is it?" Sen. Lindsey Graham (news, bio, voting record), R-S.C., said in a news briefing held by bill supporters. "Harry Reid says this is the Bush proposal. Harry Reid is right."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, talking with reporters traveling with Bush in Europe, said the president "continues to be regularly briefed" on the legislation. The administration, she said, is encouraging Reid "to keep the debate open. It's a very important issue; people want to have conversations about it."

Several Senate conservatives continue to say they have not been allowed to offer enough changes to the bill. Some of their proposals would make it easier to detect and deport immigrants who have overstayed their visas or committed other violations.

Sen. Jim DeMint (news, bio, voting record), R-S.C., a key opponent, said the bill as written "still unfairly burdens taxpayers, doesn't ensure secure borders and guarantees amnesty" for illegal immigrants.

The bill's supporters say DeMint and other critics will oppose the measure no matter how many amendments are accepted. Nonetheless, they agreed Friday that some type of peace accord with the conservatives is essential if the measure is to return to life.

"If we're able to come up with a list of amendments that could take two or even three days to complete, 10 years from now or 100 years from now who will care that it was an extra three days if we can achieve the result that we're talking about?" said Sen. Jon Kyl (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., told reporters he was hopeful because the Senate "is a chemical place. There's a flow to activity here. The tide comes in and goes out. And once in a while, the stars get lined up correctly, and we move ahead."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., complained that critics continue to use the word "amnesty" to refer to proposals to legalize immigrants who agreed to pay fines, learn English and, at some point, briefly return to their home countries before obtaining lawful status in the U.S.

"I've listened to talk show hosts drumming up the opposition by using this word 'amnesty' over and over and over again," she said. In her 15 years in the Senate, Feinstein said, "I've never received more hate or more racist phone calls and threats."

Groups opposing the bill don't plan to let up. A group called NumbersUSA said in a statement that while the "amnesty bill ... may be dead for the year, NumbersUSA members are taking no chances." They will continue a campaign that has included 750,000 faxes sent in May, and "thousands of phone calls to Congress," the statement said.

 

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