Thompson Puts More Distance on Immigration With the White House

Stamford, Connecticut — In what may be a growing trend among Republicans trying to succeed George W. Bush in ’08, Fred Thompson last night put more distance between himself and the White House over the controversial immigration reform package now being debated in the Senate.

“They [the Administration] have their view, I have mine,” the former Tennessee senator told me before the Connecticut Republican Party’s annual Prescott Bush dinner here last night.  “And they’re just trying to ram this thing through”– a reference to the limited, two-week debate in the Senate on the measure that the White House has placed a high priority on enacting.

When I recalled to Thompson (who has yet to announce his candidacy) how White House Press Secretary Tony Snow last week referred to denunciations of the immigration package by Mitt Romney, Thompson and other Republicans as “mischaracterizations,” he simply replied: “I’ve heard about it, but I haven’t read the exact quote.”

In his remarks to the audience of 600-plus Republicans at the Stamford Sheraton, Thompson hit hard at the problem of illegal immigration as a classic case of what he considers the “biggest problem” Republicans have — the “disconnect” between Washington and the people. It has been twelve years ago, he noted, that a fence along the Mexican border was first proposed as a means of curbing illegal immigration and it is still far from complete.  Why trust the government  now, he asked his audience.  Thompson’s 25-minute address was punctuated by several prolonged invasions and shouts of “Run, Fred, Run!”

Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol has predicted that the 64-year-old former senator and televison actor will make an official declaration of candidacy on July 11, one day before he is scheduled to appear on Jay Leno’s late-night television program.  When I asked Thompson about his plans, he chuckled and told me:  “I’m not announcing anything tonight!”