The White House, Senate and House have shown they have three very different visions for immigration policy. In the case of the Senate, really it's a lack of vision. Unlike Social Security privatization (yes, that's what I'll call it) where Republican divisions have arisen in reaction to Democratic unity and public skepticism, for immigration the rifts are entirely of their own making.
We saw a glimpse into the crystal ball when Sensenbrenner held up the intelligence reform bill over a few nongermane immigration provisions, and then extracted a promise from the leadership to get a vote on the issue in the spring. According to reports, rather than be ostracized by his colleagues in the Republican Conference for his obstinacy over a (supposed) White House priority, he was given rousing applause.
Now that the 109th Congress has begun the murkiness is even clearer, if you know what I mean. There are three different approaches heading for a showdown:
- The White House wants a guest worker visa program, fulfilling a wish of Mexico's government, not to mention a range of interests from employers to Latino advocates.
- Sensenbrenner is reintroducing his anti-immigration package, and according to the Houston Chronicle the House leadership plans to attach it to the first "must-pass" bill that comes down the pike, probably the $80 billion Iraq funding that was just announced.
- The Senate does not consider it a priority and would rather focus on drafting a Social Security bill; indications are they would lean toward the White House plan, but evidence is mixed, and certainly object to having it lumped in with the Iraq funding.
CongressDaily (sorry, subscription-based) says today that it will be a hot topic of conversation at the GOP retreat this weekend in order to see if there is any common ground on substance and timetable for the House and Senate.
All this makes conservatives very nervous. While recognizing Karl Rove's plan to build a GOP coalition with Latino votes, this rightwing commentator is uncomfortable with the policy compromises that come along with it:
Although the President was re-elected, there are millions of Americans, including Hispanics, who are concerned about our lax border policy.
What was that someone was saying about a mandate? But his real fear is that the Democrats will outflank the GOP while his party dithers:
If the President is not careful, the Democrats will run to the right of the GOP on this issue and co-opt millions of disgusted conservative voters. For example, the leading Democratic presidential hopeful for 2008, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, is now sounding positively conservative on this issue. Here are some of Clinton's statements in a recent interview, "(I do) not think that we have protected our borders or our ports...I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants...People have to stop employing illegal immigrants."
Hmm, I seem to recall another Clinton who used that strategy.
For the record, this is one issue where my own preferences are closer to the White House's, though I would go a bit further, and it is refreshing to see an issue which they have not completely demagogued over security concerns. Meanwhile, add immigration to the list of issues which are bound to cause serious pain for Republicans and which undermine conservative support for the party. No, I don't buy his claim that these voters will switch wholesale for Hillary Clinton, but it might well mean they won't invest so much in mobilizing the rightwing base in the next election.