Why the Senate bill will and should fail

David Broder:


An odd thing has happened. While the Senate was debating immigration and moving to give the president most of what he wants, the attitude of House Republicans has stiffened. If anything, more of them seem more determined than they were a month ago to shut the border -- and do nothing else. They believe the public is with them.

Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of the House GOP, is symptomatic of the shift. A few months ago, Davis, whose district includes a large section of affluent Fairfax County, was decrying fellow Republican Jerry Kilgore's tactic in trying to use sentiment against illegal immigrants as a wedge issue in his losing campaign for governor.

Last week Davis said that even his highly educated and financially comfortable constituents favor the House approach more than the Senate's. "They want a tough bill," he said, adding that immigration has become "a hot issue" for more than "the hard right."

As a campaign strategist, Davis said, he fears that an impasse over immigration "certainly doesn't help the Republican Congress." With voters already frustrated over Iraq, gasoline prices and scandals in Washington, the climate for the midterm election is grim. "We need to change things, or it's going to be a long election night," Davis said.

For that reason, he threw out several hints that he hoped Hastert would bend his rule -- and open the way for the House to "work its will" on immigration with a coalition of most Democrats and a minority of Republicans.

But with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the principal author of the House bill, likely to lead his chamber's negotiators, it's doubtful Davis will get his wish. And it's doubtful that Bush will get his bill.

Davis is actually wrong to some extent. While it would be better if Congress could get a bill that the House Republicans can support, it would be worse to pass one that they oppose. It would be the equivalent of the gun control legislation that Clinton forced through before the 1994 election that did more to doom Democrats in the House than the Hillary care fiasco. Immigration enforcement is to many Republicans is like gun legislation is to the NRA. It is not an issue they can compromise on.


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