President Bush accused Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday of “single-handedly thwarting” action on immigration legislation, and got a brisk retort in return.
“President Bush has as much credibility on immigration as he does on Iraq and national security,” shot back the Nevada Democrat.
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 11 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 Reid and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) could not agree on a procedure for voting on amendments.
Reid insisted on limiting the number of amendments by conservatives who opposed the bill. Frist wanted to ensure that GOP critics of the legislation had more opportunities to seek changes.
Bush described the Senate legislation as a “promising bipartisan compromise on comprehensive immigration reform,” and said 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.”
Reid responded within minutes.
“If the president is serious about moving forward, then he should join me in calling on Sen. Frist to bring immigration reform back to the Senate floor when we return” from a two-week recess.
“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,” Reid said.
Bush and Reid swapped charges as Republicans disclosed a Spanish-language radio advertising campaign designed to shoulder Democrats with the responsibility for legislation passed by the GOP-controlled House that would make illegal immigrants subject to felony charges.
The ads are scheduled to air in New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada -- states with large Latino populations.
The Senate has not voted on the issue of penalties. In the House, Republicans drafted legislation to make illegal immigrants subject to felony charges. Democrats say they were denied a chance to eliminate criminal penalties from the bill.
At another point, Republicans tried to substitute misdemeanor charges for felonies in the bill. Democrats opposed that effort, with at least some of them saying they wanted no criminal penalties at all. Republicans then passed the overall bill -- including felony charges -- on a largely party-line vote.
With public polling showing overwhelming opposition to the felony provision, GOP leaders said this week they would make sure any bill that cleared Congress was shorn of the provision.