- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

Opponents of the Senate’s monstrous “comprehensive” immigration-reform bill can breathe a little easier this summer. Odds are that Congress won’t be able to bridge the many differences between what immigration lawyers cooked up in the Senate and the more responsible enforcement-first bill that House Republicans passed in December. But what’s good news for U.S. immigration policy is potentially bad news for the Republican Party.

That’s because right now it looks as if nothing will get done. Although this means there likely won’t be any amnesty or guest-worker programs, it also means the underlying problem — the federal government’s inability to secure the border — remains. Along with Iraq, immigration has been foremost in the public’s eye the last six months. With nothing to show for it going into November, Republicans, who control both the White House and Congress, may be seen as the party that couldn’t govern — at least that will be the line of attack coming from the Democrats from now until the elections.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert thus made the decision to hold “field hearings” across the country starting in August. It’s a daring move, not least because it has the potential of highlighting a Republican failure. That’s a risk Mr. Hastert seems willing to take, suggesting just how incendiary a topic immigration has become among the Republican base. Besides, the alternative — letting the Democrats shape the debate with their “do something” rhetoric — would have been worse.

More importantly, the hearings will give Republicans another chance to clearly articulate where their party stands on immigration. The media no doubt will claim that Republicans are merely pandering to their core voters to save their majority in the House. No, the Congressional Republican Party as a whole has been opposed to the president’s guest-worker idea from the start, as evidenced by a majority in the House voting for its enforcement-first bill in December. Where the division exists is in the Senate, but even there a majority of Republicans (32 of 55) voted against the Hagel-Martinez amnesty bill. The bill passed only because Democrats were nearly unanimous in their support for amnesty.

And that’s the difference Mr. Hastert has a chance to exploit. By putting the Democrat-passed Senate bill front and center, the hope is that the public will finally see how radical a document it is, and will come to understand why Republicans had to kill it. The subtext here of course will be that a Democratic Party-controlled House would most likely follow the Senate’s amnesty agenda.

Faced with the possibility of losing the House, the Bush administration would be wise to sit this one out, at least until the next session of Congress. It’s about politics now and the president won’t want to appear as if he’s defending the pro-amnesty Democrats. Fortunately for House Republicans, this is one case where good politics is good policy.

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