Bush Views Immigration as Difficult Problem With No Easy Solution

President Bush surprised well-heeled supporters Monday at an unannounced fund-raiser at a rented house in the Georgetown section of Washington by spending more than a third of his 45-minute speech on immigration.

Bush met for lunch with the "Regents," major contributors and fund-raisers for the president. They were less interested than ordinary Americans in the immigration issue and consequently were surprised by Bush’s emphasis.

While boosting his beleaguered guest worker program, Bush described immigration as a difficult problem with no easy solution. He criticized multiple appeals for alleged illegal immigrants ordered by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and current procedures for border offenders.

Democratic Division

The closed-door session Wednesday of the House Democratic Caucus, described officially by leaders as harmonious, included angry disagreements over the party’s correct approach to Iraq.

The top two House Democrats — Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer — typified the disagreement. Several members, unhappy about Pelosi’s advocacy of immediate troop withdrawal, joined Hoyer in taking a more moderate position.

A footnote: Nearly all House Democrats could unify in opposition to the stance taken by Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean. They feel Dean weakened the party’s position by publicly asserting that the United States could not win in Iraq.

Goodbye, Katherine?

Republican insiders believe Rep. Katherine Harris, with her fund raising in the dumps and her staff constantly in flux, may drop out of the U.S. Senate race in Florida against first-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Harris became a national personality as Florida secretary of state, supporting George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential recount. With her campaign repeatedly turning over its senior staffers, Harris may not even raise $500,000 this quarter. A recent poll shows her trailing Nelson by 16 percentage points, leading some Republican members of Congress and state legislators in Florida to worry about their own re-election in 2006.

A footnote: Some GOP fund-raisers believe Rep. Mark Foley may jump into the Senate race to replace Harris. Foley has $2.35 million cash on hand, compared to Harris’ $470,000. Nelson had $6.5 million cash on hand as of Sept. 30.

Haley’s Pitch

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who once was a big-time Washington lobbyist, prowled Capitol Hill Tuesday and Wednesday, seeking Republican support for additional funding of Hurricane Katrina damage relief on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.

Barbour’s pitch coincided with an unexpected move by his fellow Mississippian and close political ally, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, who proposed doubling President Bush’s $17.1 billion request for Katrina aid. Because the money is offset by reducing Bush’s spending requests, the Barbour-Cochran position is widely interpreted as a challenge to the White House.

Although Barbour so far has not pointed fingers at either the president or the congressional leadership, friends said he may get specific if no money is forthcoming within a week. The governor might also take issue with Louisiana officials for poisoning the Washington atmosphere by calling for $250 billion in aid.

Rahs for Rahm

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, in only his second term as a congressman from Chicago, gets high praise from Democratic activists outside Congress for his performance as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

Emanuel’s success in recruiting candidates and management of the ’06 campaign earns him higher grades than the performance of his immediate predecessors: Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, Nita Lowey of New York and the late Robert Matsui of California. A former Clinton White House political aide, Emanuel at age 46 is considered a rising star in House Democratic ranks.

A footnote: One outside Democratic campaign operation, eyeing a good chance to pick up the 16 seats in 2006 needed to win control of the House for the first time since the 1992 elections, calculates that over 50 seats out of 435 are now in play. That’s twice as many competitive seats as were estimated in 2004.