- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

President Bush said yesterday he has shown political leadership on immigration and it is time for Congress to follow through by passing a bill.

“Part of my job is to lead, and I did last night,” the president said a day after announcing a plan to rotate National Guard troops to the border to help build roads and conduct surveillance, but not detain or deport migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

Mr. Bush, asked about his Oval Office immigration speech after a meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, said he will accept a bill from Congress only if it includes a temporary guest-worker program and a way to allow some of the estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens to remain in the country.

“I said I want a comprehensive bill because I understand there needs to be a comprehensive bill in order to make — in order for us to achieve the objective.”

The White House said Mr. Bush has struck a “middle course” that provides more border security resources than the enforcement-only bill that the House approved last year. He urged lawmakers to study the plan before criticizing it.

“A lot of people have reacted to the president’s proposal without having had time to evaluate it. This is an enormous and a complex series of proposals,” said White House spokesman Tony Snow.

Early reactions showed Mr. Bush barely moved the debate inside the Capitol.

Senate Republicans took the president’s words as a further endorsement of their approach. House Republicans were pleased that Mr. Bush was taking action on border security but worried about what they say amounts to amnesty for illegal aliens.

“National Guard troops are an excellent short-term solution. However, this action must be part of a real effort to enforce our laws and must not be coupled with a thinly veiled attempt to grant amnesty,” said Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican. “The American people want assurances that our sovereignty and security are being respected.”

Democrats, meanwhile, marveled at the split among Republicans.

“This is an issue, as I pointed out, on which the Republicans are deeply, viscerally, vigorously divided,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

Mr. Snow said Mr. Bush’s proposal would “commit more Border Patrol agents and more assets to the border than even the House of Representatives have proposed, itself.”

That was accurate for the time frame to which Mr. Snow was referring, but the House’s proposed increase of 20,000 Border Patrol agents within five years goes beyond Mr. Bush’s goal of 16,000.

The proposal Mr. Bush outlined did not match the House’s call for 698 miles of fence to be built on the Southwestern border.

Mr. Bush was scheduled to meet with senators yesterday afternoon to push for legislative action, but the meeting was canceled hours earlier.

A Senate source said meeting plans started to break down when Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, declined.

The White House later announced the meeting had been canceled to allow senators to vote and work on their bill.

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