- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2007

President Bush did not intend to single out his conservative supporters for criticism in a speech on immigration reform last week and was “surprised” that his remarks angered Republicans, White House spokesman Tony Snow said today.

“He was surprised by the reaction,” Mr. Snow said of Mr. Bush’s speech in Glynco, Ga., last week. “The speech in Georgia was, ‘We’ve got a serious problem and we need to fix it.’ It was not in any way designed to be pointed at Republicans.”

But conservative opponents of a Senate immigration bill supported by Mr. Bush reacted furiously to the president’s suggestion that they are resorting to scare tactics by using the word “amnesty” in referring to the measure that would allow millions of illegal aliens to remain in the United States.

“Those determined to find fault with this bill will always be able to look at a narrow slice of it and find something they don’t like,” Mr. Bush said in the May 29 speech about the legislation now being debated in the Senate. “If you want to kill the bill, if you don’t want to do what’s right for America, you can pick one little aspect out of it, you can use it to frighten people. Or you can show leadership and solve this problem once and for all.”

Some Republicans on Capitol Hill said that Mr. Bush seemed to be questioning their patriotism, and several conservative activists said the president was splitting the Republican Party by insulting those who have been his most loyal supporters.

Mr. Snow yesterday said the immigration dispute between the president and conservatives “does not mark a point of disjunction,” and emphasized that the White House recognizes and is responding to conservative opposition to the measure.

“We understand if you’re going to get this thing done, you’re gonna need Republicans,” Mr. Snow said. “It’s important to build a large coalition, including our conservative base.”

Mr. Snow’s defense of the president’s remarks shows that “the White House is in denial about this issue,” said longtime conservative publicist Craig Shirley, an opinion shared by American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene.

“The plain meaning of what he said was clear,” Mr. Keene said.

“Tony and others within the administration had been urging conservatives prior to the president’s remarks to give Bush the benefit of the doubt as far as motives are concerned and to keep the debate civil. ‘After all,’ [Mr. Snow] said at a meeting I attended, ‘at the end of the day we’re all on the same team.’

“So it’s easy to see why he’s in denial,” Mr. Keene said, “but the president’s prepared remarks and some of the things he has said make it clear that conservatives, or at least those with the temerity to disagree with the White House line [on immigration], are no longer welcome on the team.”

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