- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

Conservatives say Bush administration allies are accusing House Republicans of tarnishing their party’s image among Hispanic voters by calling for measures to tighten border security before passing any guest-worker program.

Ed Gillespie, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee who is pushing President Bush’s vision of a guest-worker plan, said in an opinionjournal.com editorial during the weekend that those calling for building a border fence are “populists” using anti-immigrant rhetoric.

And Mr. Bush’s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, told the Los Angeles Times that the debate has hurt him and his wife, an immigrant, by giving “the perception that all immigrants are bad.”

But conservatives said name-calling by administration allies has become a pattern when someone opposes Mr. Bush, such as what occurred with the Dubai ports deal and the Supreme Court nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers.

“Of all the things I find bizarre, it’s the Harriet Miers line all over again — Ed Gillespie this time purveying the notion that half the House Republican conference, and by implication their constituents, must be xenophobic racists,” said Merrill Matthews, a visiting scholar at the conservative Institute for Policy Innovation in Texas.

The House in December passed a bill calling for 700 miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border as well as better interior enforcement and checks to ensure workers are legal. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who voted for the bill, said it’s “dishonest to roll illegal immigration into legal immigration.”

“We are an anti-illegal-immigration party and we are a pro-rule-of-law party, and should we depart from that, we don’t deserve to be in power in this country,” he said, adding that Mr. Gillespie “has departed from it clearly in this article.”

Although the president yesterday praised senators working on a compromise that grants millions of illegal aliens a path to citizenship, Mr. Gillespie told The Washington Times this week that he doesn’t think citizenship for illegal aliens is the answer.

“We should rethink whether those who are here in our country illegally should be afforded the privilege of citizenship,” he said. “I don’t think they should, and if our party were to take that perspective, we would be where the majority of Americans are.”

But he also said of Republicans, “We cannot be perceived as the anti-immigrant party. I think you can be welcoming to immigrants and oppose amnesty. You can do both.”

Mr. Bush warned two weeks ago against a debate that pits “one group of people against another” and said the discussion should respect immigrants. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr. Bush was not targeting anyone in particular.

Mr. Matthews said he was “surprised so many on our side are being stereotyped as xenophobic. And the attacks on conservatives have largely come not from the Democrats but from other Republicans generally regarded as conservative.”

“You can’t paint the conservatives as people who want to build a larger wall,” Mr. Matthews said. “The vast majority are simply saying we have laws on the books and there are violators of those laws.”

House Republicans said they believe they best capture the conservative message.

“The administration’s allies seem to be doing the same thing they did to us on Harriet Miers,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, North Carolina Republican.

“The administration is tone-deaf to the conservative base,” Mr. McHenry said. “Conservatives across the country tell me ‘enforcement first’ is the right approach, not a quasi-amnesty program.

“District by district, what unites our conservative base is our approach to security, and key to that is border security,” Mr. McHenry said. “The House bill is much more in keeping with where conservatives are rather than” the bill proposed by Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

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