If the escalating battle over Congress' controversial immigration legislation is any indication, the final 18 months of George W. Bush's presidency will be marked by pitched Republican-on-Republican smackdowns. That much was clear Monday as Senate Republicans and the administration took swipes at one another ahead of today's key immigration vote.
The Senate ended up voting 64-35 Tuesday to spend the week debating the measure, but that didn't prevent Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina and his colleagues from trying to block Bush's No. 1 domestic priority.
"The favorability ratings for the president and the Congress are at new historic lows and to take the nation's most emotionally charged issue and try to ram it down America's throat at a time when America doesn't trust what we're doing up here doesn't make a lot of sense," DeMint said at a hastily-arranged press conference on Monday. "So now is the time to hesitate and stop and think."
Not so, Joel Kaplan, White House deputy chief of staff for policy, told reporters on a conference call an hour later. "We're in the phase now, as they head into the final tally on the votes, of making the case and explaining why we think the status quo is unacceptable," Kaplan said. "You see signs every day that the status quo is unacceptable; you see states and localities acting on their own accord, because they don't see the federal government taking charge of this situation."
The jockeying came as Bush, most Senate Democrats and some Senate Republicans attempted to resurrect the bill over the objections of some conservatives who are resisting a provision to put the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. on a path to citizenship. DeMint and four other opponents of the bill Monday sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decrying the latest maneuver to pass bipartisan legislation.
The 627-page bill was yanked off the floor by Reid on June 7 after conservatives essentially filibustered it; the measure was ten votes shy of the 60 needed on a procedural vote to cut off debate. This time around Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, took the unusual step of blocking off all amendments except the more than 20 already agreed to by both sides.
DeMint and Senators Jeff Sessions of Alabama, John Cornyn of Texas, North Carolina's Elizabeth Dole and David Vitter of Louisiana complained that such a tactic will "shut off the debate" and "silence amendments instead of facilitate their debate."
While the White House was careful not to outright criticize opponents of the bill, the senators had no such reservations.
"It does not have the support of Americans and I submit to you that this bill is flawed, it will not work," Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, told reporters. "My impression is that the enthusiasm for this bill, even the votes for this bill, has been eroding over the last few weeks."