Pennsylvania Rep. Melissa A. Hart will lead the Republican Party platform subcommittee that will tackle politically sensitive immigration issues, The Washington Times has learned.
The Hart appointment comes amid growing complaints among many in the Republican Party that President Bush’s proposed immigration plan would reward illegal aliens in the hope of getting more Hispanics votes for him in November.
Mrs. Hart is known among colleagues for her tough stance on immigration issues.
The platform — a statement of principles nonbinding to the party’s presidential candidate — is being prepared for approval by the party’s presidential nominating team in New York. It will call, for the first time, for a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
These revelations, from a confidential source with intimate knowledge about the committee, come in response to public criticism by some conservatives that the platform will be weak on issues dear to the factions that make up the party’s electoral coalition.
A conservative activist expressed surprise and pleasure when informed of the Hart appointment.
“I’m still getting up off the floor. This is great for those of us interested in a more moderate immigration policy,” said Craig Nelson, director of Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement.
Mr. Nelson said Mrs. Hart “is much more closely aligned with the American people on immigration than Washington lobbyists representing corporations that profit from the cheap labor provided by excessive immigration — and than those aligned with the Karl Rove and the Wall Street Journal extremists.”
Some party members tie Mr. Bush’s immigration policy to Mr. Rove, one of the president’s chief political advisers. They say it panders to Hispanics by offering a form of amnesty to illegal aliens. The issue has split the party.
While many have said that the Republican Party has no future unless it boosts its 35 percent share of the rapidly growing Hispanic voting bloc, others argue that such a policy alienates the party’s voter base and many citizens of Hispanic origin who are advocates of law and order.
The latter were further enraged when The Times reported last week that millions of illegal aliens would be free from arrest and deportation, have access to tax-deferred savings accounts and Social Security credits, and get unrestricted travel to and from their home countries under Mr. Bush’s guest-worker program.
The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, long has been calling for no restrictions on immigration. Its editorial page advocates making the United States a nation without borders to let the forces of supply and demand freely determine who enters seeking work.
Last week several Republicans associated with the platform committee described an effort by the Bush camp to head off any language that might seem “unwelcoming” to immigrants or intolerant of homosexuals.
But to the consternation of many party activists and interest-group leaders nationwide, the Bush campaign and convention officials have been exceptionally tight-lipped about the names of those selected to lead the platform subcommittees, as well as the 110 delegates who will make up the platform committee.
“Unlike the Democrats’ platform, which doesn’t at all reflect the positions of their party’s candidate [John Kerry], our platform is going to reflect our party’s principles and [the policies of] President Bush,” said the source close to the committee.
Pressed for specifics on what the immigration plank will say, the source said: “The president’s position on these issues is well-known — and is reflected in the platform working document.”
In January, Mr. Bush proposed what the White House summarized as “a new temporary-worker program to match willing foreign workers with willing U.S. employers when no Americans can be found to fill the jobs.”
“The program would be open to new foreign workers, and to the undocumented men and women currently employed in the U.S. This new program would allow workers who currently hold jobs to come out of hiding and participate legally in America’s economy while not encouraging further illegal behavior.”
Mr. Bush then asked Congress to work with him on legislation that, among other things, “protects the rights of legal immigrants while not unfairly rewarding those who came here unlawfully.”
As for the marriage amendment, several social conservative leaders said they saw no signs that it would be added to the platform, and weren’t pressuring the White House or the Bush camp to do so.
But yesterday, former Reagan administration aide Gary Bauer said, “This is a Bush convention through and through, and to me it would have been shocking and bizarre if there had not been such a call in the platform.
“It is one of the major differences between the president and his challengers,” said Mr. Bauer, head of conservative advocacy group American Values.
Mr. Bush advocates a constitutional amendment to bar the states from performing or recognizing a homosexual “marriage,” but leaving it up to the state legislatures to define and permit “legal arrangements other than marriage,” such as “same-sex unions.”
A week before the convention, the 26-member committee will meet in the Javits Convention Center for a final review and adoption of the latest version of the platform, which will be approved by the full convention on its Aug. 30 opening day.
The source said Colorado Gov. Bill Owens will lead the subcommittee on homeland security and Rep. Phil English, with a lifetime American Conservative Union (ACU) voting record of 76 percent, will lead the subcommittee on tax reform and science and technology.
Mrs. Hart, with a lifetime ACU grade of 90 percent, also will lead the subcommittee that deals with communities, health care, environment, veterans’ issues and welfare.
Mississippi Gov. and former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour will lead the subcommittee on family issues, including abortion.