The White House flatly rejected the early criticism of the immigration bill and does not believe it will be facing a revolt of conservatives over the controversial measure not unlike that following the President’s ill-fated nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court in ’05.
When I asked Tony Snow at yesterday’s gaggle (early morning briefing for White House reporters) whether the Administration anticipated a “Harriett Miers moment,” the President’s press secretary replied without hesitation: “No, I don’t. I think what’s going to be interesting, John, is that as conservatives have an opportunity to study what’s been proposed, they are going to find a lot of the things that have been alleged about the legislation are not true.”
As an example, he cited “there would be unfettered access to the welfare system when in fact, the measure says no. Those who are here as non-citizens would have access only to services now mandated by the courts — emergency medical room and K-12 education.”
Warming to the subject, Snow predicted that people will also see “that what the President originally proposed were a series of steps that were designed to take on everybody’s chief concern, border security.” He hailed the proposed now being debated in the Senate as “the most significant attempt ever to strengthen our borders.
“I know that some Members [of Congress] say that the measure under consideration in the Senate would stop the construction of fencing at 370 miles. That’s not true. The fencing bills that were passed last year are still in effect. What it does say is that you cannot move forward toward a temporary worker program until you’ve done precisely what many critics say they want to see — which is a real and firm demonstration of determination on the borders. That includes 370 miles of fence, 200 miles of barriers. It also includes the ability to police more than 1000 miles of train using technical means. This would include 70 radar and camera installations, unmanned aerial vehicles, and also the ability to put together systems that would respond nimbly and in real time to reports of people coming across the border.”
In what appeared to reporters to be a “sneak preview” of the case the Administration would make for the immigration package that the Senate will debate and vote on in the next three weeks, Snow explained “you start walking through this, it also tackles the so-called issue of amnesty. There’s no amnesty, but what we do now have is the ability, if the legislation passes, to have a snapshot of everybody who’s in the country illegally.”
Regarding the criticism that there could be forgery of the identification card with biometric ids required of all immigrants if the measure passes, the President’s top spokesman said “we address that. Furthermore, we put together a tracking system that has strong incentives for those who came here illegally to go ahead and identify themselves, and even stronger incentives for employers to make sure that they do not have illegals on the payroll.
“So it’s a very practical way of dealing with concerns about security, also about the status of people who are here, trying to weed out good actors and bad actors, much more vigorous measures to deport those who break the laws, including anybody who has come across the border since the beginning of this year. I think when people finally get past the slogan stage and start looking at the real provisions, they’re going to find that this is the most serious effort to address their particular concerns that we’ve seen.”
“In point of fact, John,” Snow emphasized , “when it comes to enforcement both in the interior and on the borders, what has been suggested here is far stronger than anything that has ever been proposed in Congress. This serves, I think, as a launching pad to work on a collaborative effort. And furthermore, it tackles questions that I think a number of conservatives never thought would get tackled, such as chain migration.
“So I think, again, we understand that it is an enormously complicated bill but on the other hand, there are a series of measures here that have the following effect: Number One, strong efforts on security; Number Two, weeding out good actors and bad actors, those that behave badly, they’re going to leave; Number Three, no automatic citizenship — those that have been here illegally, they’ll have up to eight years at which point they are going to have make a choice, leave or apply for a green card. If you apply for a green card, the first thing you’re going to have to do is admit you broke the law by paying a $4000 fine. You have to remain continuously employed, you do not have full access to the welfare system, you have to make sure you obey the laws, you have to master the English language. In other words, you have to be a good citizen, which is exactly what Americans would expect. And furthermore, you cannot be in a position where you are taking a job away from an American citizen once it happens.”
Concluding the case the Administration is likely to make to critical conservatives, Snow said, :”You put all those things together and I think it not only answers the qualms from a security standpoint and a fairness standpoint and a rule of law standpoint that many conservatives have, but at the same time it also acknowledges that this is a country that continues to have a booming and robust economy, where we have more people working before than ever before on a regular basis and where we continue to set new records on Wall Street. You also have to make sure that you have an orderly flow of those who are going to supply labor to keep the economy going.
“This is a measure that if people give it a fair hearing and a fair reading, I think they’re going to find that — especially the critics from last year — they got just about everything they wanted.”
Addressing “Good Actors and Bad Actors”
In a follow-up question, I asked Snow whether he would bring the case he just made to people who have denounced the immigration bill on the table,notably Republican presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson –“speaking of good actors and bad actors.”
“I tell you what I’m going to do,” Snow replied, “I’m going to spend a lot of time, and so are a lot of other people in the White House, making clear what the position is. This is enormously important. The President made this a priority on May 15th of last year.”
In a backhanded reference to Romney, Thompson and others who have attacked the recently-unveiled bill, he added that “it is important that mischaracterizations, not only in the bill but also what the President has had in mind all along, do not harden into sort of a gospel. That does not do a service to the truth and frankly, it doesn’t do much of a service to those who really do believe in border security. It’s hard to imagine that you are going to make America more secure by saying 11-12 million — you don’t know who they are — who are on American soil right now, that because you don’t like some aspect of the bill, you’re going to do nothing for an additional two or three years.