- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

House Republicans will make a final push to get border-security legislation on President Bush’s desk before November’s elections, senior aides told The Washington Times yesterday.

Top Republicans are planning a series of tough new border-security measures that they hope can get through the Senate, which in the past has opposed border-security legislation unless it has included a guest-worker program and grants citizenship rights to the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens already here.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said yesterday it would be “next to impossible” to approve such comprehensive immigration reform, but several key senators said they are willing to consider a border-security-only approach.

“If our only options are a half a loaf or no loaf, then I’d be inclined to take half a loaf,” said Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who for years has been a leading advocate of comprehensive immigration reform that secures the borders.

The renewed House effort comes after a monthlong August recess during which time Republicans held a series of “field hearings” to further explore the problem of illegal immigration.

Republicans now worry that many voters will blame them for not doing more because they control the White House and both chambers of Congress.

“Some of our members need something to hang their hat on,” said one senior House Republican aide.

House Republicans say they get little credit for having approved a border-security bill 10 months ago and the Republican Congress as a whole gets little credit for the border-security improvements that have passed both chambers.

The latest bill to fund the Iraq war, for instance, contained $1.9 billion for beefed up border patrol. And by year’s end, Congress is expected to have approved another $20 billion.

The sticking point for border-security legislation has been a handful of Senate Republicans who sided with most Democrats to oppose any immigration bill that doesn’t include a guest-worker program and provisions to grant citizenship to the majority of the illegal alien population.

Some, however, are having second thoughts as the November midterm elections near.

“If all we could get through is border security and work-site enforcement, I could support that,” Mr. Cornyn said yesterday.

Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas has been another stalwart Republican opposed to the border-security-only approach. But yesterday, he said he’s “not sure” how he would vote on such a bill now.

“I’d like to see us do something. I’d like to see us do something comprehensive,” he said. “But I would look at it.”

Even Sen. Mel Martinez, the Florida Republican who wrote the compromise bill that ultimately passed the Senate, has softened to the idea.

“It really would depend on what it looked like,” he said yesterday.

Such legislation could also pick up a few Democrats. A handful already have expressed public support for a straight border-security bill. And yesterday, Sen. Mark Pryor, the Arkansas Democrat who has supported comprehensive legislation, said yesterday he would consider a border bill.

Mr. Martinez acknowledged that, without a major immigration bill passing both chambers, Republicans have a problem on their hands heading into November.

“It was a serious risk when we left here in July with this cocky attitude that this would be a better political issue for us if we get nothing done on it,” he said. “That was a real mistake.”

That vulnerability was clear yesterday with Mr. Frist’s “next to impossible” statement about comprehensive reform.

Within hours, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who has been on the forefront of immigration reform, issued a statement.

“How can Republicans say they are for making America safer when they can’t even pass a comprehensive immigration-reform bill to protect our borders?”

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