Republicans, seen as divided during the fight over immigration on Capitol Hill, hope to use the bill’s resurrection to expose a Democratic split on the issue.
Democratic leaders across the country say their town hall meetings found voters angry over the Iraq war, while Republicans face wrath from those who think the immigration plan amounts to amnesty. However, Republican campaign staffers point out that Democrats are far from united on immigration — when the bill died this month, more Senate Democrats voted to block it than Republicans voted to advance it.
“There are a certain number of people here in this country who have put down roots because of the lax immigration laws over the past 20 years and deserve a path,” Sen. James H. Webb Jr. of Virginia told CNN. “But this idea of saying every single person who was here as of the end of last year should be accorded … legalization, is not in the concept of [the] American sense of fairness.”
Mr. Webb was one of the Democrats blocking the bill, and he said on CNN earlier this month that he is trying to “bring reason into the process.”
Clear divisions exist on the House side, where several freshman Democrats, such as Rep. Nancy Boyda of Kansas, a member of the Immigration Reform Caucus, oppose the current Senate plan.
“Congress needs to prove to the American people that it can control the borders, and that comes with addressing border security first and only until that trust can be restored,” said Boyda spokeswoman Shanan Guinn. “Until you take care of that problem, talking about anything else is not going to satisfy rebuilding that trust.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee is targeting dozens of freshman Democrats, such as Mrs. Boyda, who captured seats in conservative districts President Bush won in 2004.
“This is the Democrats’ dilemma: Either [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi forces their vulnerable members to walk the plank and vote against the interests and values of their districts, or she has another broken promise on her hands,” said NRCC spokesman Ken Spain.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee said Democrats will be caught in tough immigration votes.
“When this bill came up before, Senate Democrats voted to allow illegal aliens to receive Social Security benefits … to condone sanctuary cities and … against requiring voters to show a photo ID as proof of identity,” said NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher. “They have horrible records on these issues.”
Democrats repeatedly say Republicans are the problem, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Friday at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast that lawmakers in the “other party … continue to stand in the way.”
A fair bill would have “a path to legalization for hardworking immigrants who are here … willing to pay taxes and obey the law, so that they can eventually earn the rights and privileges of citizenship,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blamed Republicans for the deal’s demise, saying Democrats have “done our job” because 80 percent supported the bill. “It’s not a question of Democrats doing anything; it’s a question of Republicans supporting their own president,” the Nevada Democrat said.
Some election analysts say Democrats may have been hurt politically by their failure to pass a bill, while Republicans could benefit by their success in blocking it.
“Recent polling suggests that Congress’ standing has slipped again, and Congress’ apparent inability to deal with immigration reform could add to the public frustration,” election analyst Stuart Rothenberg wrote in his newsletter.