- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush accused Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid yesterday of “single-handedly thwarting” action on immigration legislation, and got a brisk retort.

“President Bush has as much credibility on immigration as he does on Iraq and national security,” the Nevada Democrat shot back.

The exchange was the latest in a series of maneuvers among party leaders trying to assign blame for Senate gridlock over comprehensive immigration legislation. A pending measure would strengthen border security, create a guest-worker program and offer eventual citizenship to many of the estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the country.

Supporters say the bill has more than enough votes to pass. It was sidetracked last week when Mr. Reid insisted on an onerous procedure for voting on such Republican-backed amendments as a provision to deny any legal status to aliens with criminal records. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, pulled the bill when that Democratic tactic became clear.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Reid swapped charges as Republicans disclosed a Spanish-language radio advertising campaign designed to blame Democrats for separate legislation passed by the Republican-controlled House. A provision in the bill, drafted by Republicans, would make illegal entry a felony. Democrats say they were denied a chance to eliminate criminal penalties from the bill while it was in the House.

At another point, when House Republicans tried to soften the measure by substituting misdemeanor charges for felonies, Democrats blocked that effort, with at least some of them saying they wanted no criminal penalties at all. House Republicans then passed the overall bill — including the felony provision — on a largely party-line vote.

The Senate has not voted on the issue of penalties.

With public polls showing the unpopularity of the felony provision, Republican leaders said this week that they would ensure that any bill that clears Congress is shorn of the measure.

But prospects for passage are uncertain.

Mr. Bush described the Senate bill as a “promising bipartisan compromise on comprehensive immigration reform” and said Mr. Reid “refused to allow senators to move forward and vote for amendments. … It was a procedural gimmick that meant he was single-handedly thwarting the will of the American people and impeding bipartisan efforts to secure this border and make this immigration system of ours more humane and rational.”

Mr. Reid responded within minutes.

“If the president is serious about moving forward, then he should join me in calling on Senator Frist to bring immigration reform back to the Senate floor when we return” from a two-week recess, Mr. Reid said.

“Hopefully, by then, President Bush and his majority leader will have found the backbone to stop the extreme elements of the Republican Party from blocking improvements to America’s security,” Mr. Reid said.

Mr. Frist has said he intends to bring the issue back to the floor this year, but he has stopped short of a firm commitment.

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