Bush revives bid to legalize illegal aliens

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President Bush yesterday moved aggressively to resurrect his plan to relax rules against illegal immigration, a move bound to anger conservatives just days after they helped re-elect him.

The president met privately in the Oval Office with Sen. John McCain to discuss jump-starting a stalled White House initiative that would grant legal status to millions of immigrants who broke the law to enter the United States.

The Arizona Republican is one of the Senate’s most outspoken supporters of expanding guest-worker programs and has introduced his own bill to offer a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

“We are formulating plans for the legislative agenda for next year,” said White House political strategist Karl Rove. “And immigration will be on that agenda.”

He added: “The president had a meeting this morning to discuss with a significant member of the Senate the prospect of immigration reform. And he’s going to make it an important item.”

While the president was huddling with Mr. McCain, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was pushing the plan during a visit to Mexico City.

“The president remains committed to comprehensive immigration reform as a high priority in his second term,” he told a meeting of the U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission. “We will work closely with our Congress to achieve this goal.”

But key opponents in Congress said Mr. Bush’s proposal isn’t going anywhere.

“An amnesty by any other name is still an amnesty, regardless of what the White House wants to call it,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus.

“Their amnesty plan was dead on arrival when they sent it to the Congress in January, and if they send the same pig with lipstick back to Congress next January, it will suffer the same fate,” he said.

With the House and Senate already clashing over border security and deportation provisions in the pending intelligence overhaul bill, some Capitol Hill aides said it’s almost impossible that Congress could agree on a broader immigration proposal.

Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said he “suddenly went from calm to stressed out” after learning of the president’s renewed push for immigration relaxation.

He predicted the plan would continue to meet vigorous opposition from House Republicans.

“If the House wouldn’t deliver this bill before the guy’s election, when he claimed he needed it for the Hispanic vote, why would they deliver it after the election, when their constituents overwhelmingly oppose it?” he said. “Why would House leaders follow the president over a cliff?”

White House officials insisted the move was not “payback” to Hispanic voters who supported Mr. Bush in greater numbers last week than in 2000. Although the president first proposed relaxing immigration shortly after taking office, he mothballed the idea after September 11, 2001, and downplayed it on the campaign trail.

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