- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 24, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Conservative leaders among House Republicans say that President Bush’s upcoming showdown with them on immigration could threaten support for the Iraq war as well as for the president’s other top policy goals.

“The White House should keep in mind that if they have a direct confrontation with House Republicans on [immigration], it could affect the vote on the Iraq appropriation in September,” said Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican. “It will not affect me. I intend to stand by the president. But I do think it is something they should keep in mind for other Republicans who are borderline.”

Mr. King last week introduced legisla Mr. King last week introduced legislation that would focus on border security while eliminating many of the guest-worker and path-to-citizenship provisions in the Senate proposal, which he called an “amnesty bill.”

Rep. Adam H. Putnam, Florida Republican, warned that a lackluster immigration bill could do “irreparable harm” to House Republican support for the president.

“If the president makes it clear he’ll sign any immigration bill that gets to his desk, no matter what it looks like, then it certainly will do more harm than good,” said Mr. Putnam, who as chairman of the House Republican Conference is the third-ranking House Republican.

Mr. Putnam said that a speech by Mr. Bush in Glynco, Ga., last month — which the president’s conservative base perceived as harsh criticism of its opposition to the immigration bill — was a “major step backwards.”

Rep. Brian P. Bilbray, California Republican, said: “The president is obviously looking for a legacy on immigration. He’s looking for a legacy on Iraq. And I’m not so sure the legacy that he’s striving for is what he’s going to get.”

Mr. Putnam said the president’s promise to veto bloated Democratic spending bills could soften the damage. House Republicans are “grateful for [the president’s] strong stance in regard to vetoes,” he said. Mr. Bush has vowed to veto nine out of 12 appropriations bills that the Democrat-controlled Congress plans to pass with spending totals exceeding the president’s requests.

Many House conservatives are eager to reclaim the mantle of fiscal responsibility, and some see this as one way that a politically weakened, second-term president could reconcile with conservative House Republicans.

The president’s relationship with congressional Republicans is important to sustaining funding for the war in Iraq as well as to achieving Mr. Bush’s remaining policy goals: renewing the No Child Left Behind Act, investing in alternative fuels for energy independence and revising the tax code to make health care more affordable.

Robert Hoffman, vice president of congressional affairs for Oracle Corp., said Mr. Bush will remain relevant to Republicans on Capitol Hill “because the veto pen is so important to their agenda.”

“I don’t know that [the immigration bill is] going to cause any residual damage on other issues, especially when the president is demonstrating a strong stance on controlling spending,” said Mr. Hoffman, who worked on Capitol Hill for 13 years. “That’s something an overwhelming majority of Republicans would embrace.”

White House officials were confident that the president could continue working with House Republicans after an immigration standoff.

“Even when there are strong disagreements on some issues, we have the ability to work together on others,” said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.

Republicans have demonstrated that they have enough votes to sustain a veto on spending bills and will work with the president on the issue. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican, said 147 House Republicans — one more than necessary — have signed a pledge to uphold Mr. Bush’s vetoes on the nine spending bills.

The House Republican leadership delivered the pledge letter to Mr. Bush on Wednesday at the White House, during a meeting about the spending showdown with Democrats.

Mr. Hensarling acknowledged that many House conservatives would oppose the Senate immigration bill, but that immigration may not come up for debate in the House until late next month or early August.

“Right now we are certainly united with the president in trying to get these over-budget, bloated spending bills vetoed,” he said. “There are so many fights here, you’ve got to focus on the one in front of you and not the one down the road.”

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