- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

Republican leaders see little chance of a significant grass-roots revolt over President Bush’s immigration policy, but some wonder whether his proposal has any short-term benefits for him politically.

“I know why Bush raised [the guest-worker issue] in his State of the Union speech — it was the right thing to do, even though there is almost zero chance Congress will pass it in this election year,” said David Norcross, chairman of the Republican National Convention in New York.

“And I’m not sure whether it will bring the president a significantly greater proportion of the Hispanic vote than he got in 2000,” Mr. Norcross said yesterday during the annual winter meeting of the Republican National Committee.

Party officials nationwide acknowledge some grumbling among rank-and-file members but doubt that it will be significant enough to jeopardize Mr. Bush’s chances in the November election.

Although these leaders generally like Mr. Bush’s proposal and think it is fair-minded, some shared Mr. Norcross’ doubts about whether it will provide the kind of payoff for the president, especially among the rapidly increasing Hispanic vote, for which Republican Party strategists had hoped.

Critics have called the plan a form of amnesty that would reward illegal behavior in part to satisfy the cheap-labor needs of American corporations that contribute to the Republican Party.

But party leaders generally agreed with Mike Retzer, RNC treasurer and former Mississippi Republican chairman, that the president simply is seeking to do the right thing for immigrants eager to work in the United States. Mr. Retzer refuted charges that Mr. Bush was pandering to the Hispanic voting bloc.

Mr. Bush won 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000, and his strategists have said that unless he wins a larger proportion in 2004, he will lose the election.

The president’s immigration proposal would give legal status to some of the millions of people who have crossed U.S. borders illegally but fill jobs here at wage levels that most American workers won’t accept.

It also would allow immigrants to collect Social Security benefits earlier than American workers and would allow them to receive those benefits while living in Mexico or any other country to which they return.

Earlier this week, 23 Republican House members sent Mr. Bush a letter warning that he may face a voter backlash over the immigration proposal.

The House members, including Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Maryland and Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. of Virginia, said their offices have been bombarded with complaints from constituents who say they won’t vote for Mr. Bush if he pushes the plan all the way to passage.

The guest-worker program for illegal aliens, mostly from south of the border, was first proposed by Mr. Bush early in his administration and drew a storm of protest from many otherwise loyal constituents.

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett said the plan was, with few exceptions, well-regarded by grass-roots party members in his state.

“Some feel the plan takes jobs from Americans who are unemployed, but not many say that,” Mr. Bennett said.

Mr. Norcross said there was probably more risk than benefit to Mr. Bush in bringing up once again a program that critics in the president’s own party regard as a form of amnesty for illegal aliens.

“Some of his voter base was upset with the president’s proposal and let their representatives know,” Mr. Norcross said. “But even most of those folks are saying they’ll vote for him.”

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