Capital Briefs: July 2-6

SENATE REJECTS AMENSTY: In a colossal victory for conservatives, the U.S. Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly voted against a cloture motion to cut off debate on the Bush-Kennedy-McCain amnesty bill, essentially killing the measure that would have given legal status to at least 12 million illegal immigrants. By a surprising vote of 46 to 53, the Senate refused to advance the amnesty bill to a direct vote on the Senate floor. Despite all the arm-twisting by the White House, only12 Republicans supported cloture, while 16 Democrats (including Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders) broke with the majority of their party and opposed cloture. The vote came a day after Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and the Democratic majority attempted to railroad the immigration legislation through the Senate by using arcane Senate rules to turn back amendments that would have removed the amnesty provision from the bill. The bill’s defeat is viewed as a crushing blow to President Bush who had called lawmakers throughout the morning of the cloture vote, imploring them to support a bill he hoped would become a major piece of his presidential legacy. In explaining his vote against the immigration bill, freshman Sen. Bob Corker (R.-Tenn.) said, “Americans feel that they are losing their country … to a government that has seemed to not have the competence or the ability to carry out the things that it says it will do.” Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R.-N.C.) agreed, saying that “many Americans don’t have confidence that borders, especially with Mexico, will be significantly tightened.” With the monumental defeat of the amnesty measure, Congress will have to go back to the drawing board, and both supporters and opponents of the rejected bill claim that immigration reform is not likely to be revisited until after the 2008 election. These 12 Republican senators voted for cloture to advance the Bush-Kennedy bill: Bennett, Craig, Graham, Gregg, Hagel, Kyl, Lott, Lugar, Martinez, McCain, Snowe and Specter. These 16 Democratic senators broke with their party and voted against cloture: Baucus, Bayh, Bingaman, Brown, Byrd, Dorgan, Harkin, Landrieu, McCaskill, Nelson, Pryor, Rockefeller, Sanders (I.), Stabenow, Tester and Webb.

Perhaps the biggest loser in the dispute is the senator radio commentator Rush Limbaugh referred to as Lindsey Grahamnesty. South Carolina’s Graham had become, next to the President, the chief advocate of the amnesty scheme and, with his nasty criticisms of the bill’s opponents, was often chosen for appearances on network television. Graham is up for re-election next year and South Carolina conservatives say they expect a strong challenge to the incumbent.

RCC CHEERS IMMIGRATION BILL DEFEAT: As the Bush Administration and Senate Republican leaders such as GOP Whip Trent Lott (R.-Miss.) voiced disappointment over the failure of the comprehensive immigration package to come to a vote in the Senate last week, the top campaign arm for House Republicans tried to take advantage of the situation. In what pundits and pols described as an unprecedented schism with the White House and senators of the same party, a mailing for the National Republican Congressional Committee asked for immediate contributions to back “Republicans in Congress [who] demand an immigration bill that secures our border, re-establishes the rule of law and doesn’t reward people for breaking it” — language that talk-radio hosts and other opponents of the Bush-backed measure used to defeat it. The mailing was signed by NRCC Chairman and Rep. Tom Cole (R.-Okla). Asked by Human Events about this split with the White House and other leading Republicans, NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said: “We believe that our supporters deserve to know where House Republicans stand on the issue. The House Republicans took a decisive stand and overwhelmingly voted to oppose the Senate immigration bill [a reference to a non-binding resolution passed overwhelming by the House Republican Conference two days before the Senate killed the Bush-backed bill].”

BUSHIE LEAVES NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND: As the President made another public plea last week for Congress to reauthorize the “No Child Left Behind” federal education program, a key original backer of the measure deserted him. Gene Hickock, former deputy secretary of Education in the first term of the Bush Administration (when NCLB was first authorized), told the Washington Post that he had serious doubts about the program’s reach into local education. “I had these second thoughts in the back of my mind the whole time,” Hickock said. “I believe it was a necessary step at the time, but now that it has been in place for a while, it’s important to step back and see if there are other ways to solve the problem.” So far, 57 House and Senate Republicans—among them former Bush Cabinet member and Florida Sen. Mel Martinez—have signed onto alternative bills that would allow states to opt out of NCLB.

SUPREME COURT SLAPS RACE BASING: On the heels of its stunning campaign finance decision (See cover story), the Supreme Court, in another important five-to-four ruling, last week rejected the integration plans of two public school districts (in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, Wash.). Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for himself and the others in the majority, (Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy), said that the districts “failed to show that they considered methods other than explicit racial classifications to achieve their stated goals.” He said succinctly, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Justice Stephen Breyer, in an angry dissenting opinion joined by the other three liberal justices, John Paul Stevens, David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said, “Roberts’ opinion undermined the promise of integrated schools that the court laid out 53 years ago in its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education.” Last week’s case dealt with the constitutionality of sending children to schools far from home in an effort to integrate or “diversify” classrooms.

MILITARY VS. ENTITLEMENTS: At the June 26 American Enterprise Institute conference, AEI scholars Fredrick Kagan and Thomas Donnelly joined Robert D. Hormats from Goldman Sachs International in trying to answer the question “Can we afford the military we need?” Yes, the panelists said, as long as Congress controls entitlement spending. According to a Congressional Budget Office report, the 2006 Defense budget was $420 billion while the big three entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) received $1.3 trillion. The panelists pointed out that Social Security alone receives more funding than the entire national security budget and Medicare is estimated to surpass military funding by 2013. Donnelly vigorously argued that if Congress does not address the ballooning entitlement programs now, while it still can, funding a successful military will become increasingly difficult. As he summed up, “National defense is the highest priority: It affects all Americans equally.”