Confidence Wanes for Immigration Bill, Gonzales

The future of the Senate's immigration bill hangs in the balance as it comes under attack from businesses and pro-immigration groups. Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats seem to be agreeing about the need for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to leave his post. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, said Gonzales is likely to step down before a historic vote of no confidence is cast by the Senate.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

On a Monday morning it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Immigration will be on the floor of the Senate today. The attorney general faces a no-confidence vote and funding for the Iraq war is still up in the air. Those are three major issues Congress will take up this week in the push toward the Memorial Day recess.

Joining us now for some analysis is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So, starting with Iraq, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday there will be a funding measure by next weekend. How can she be so sure?

ROBERTS: Well, because she has a lot to say about it. But she's also sending the signal to her party that it's time to do this. Look, Renee. Basically, the framework for this bill has been clear for a while: that it will be short-term, about a four-month bill, and that it will have some benchmarks in it for the Iraqi government to meet and that there will be no dire consequences if they don't meet them. But it's been hard to get Democrats who are very eager to be on the record saying we've got to get out of Iraq to agree to that bill. They want something much tougher.

And the White House continues to say no, that the president will veto anything tougher than that. The question is who gets blamed if the troops don't get the money, and the Democratic leaders fear they are the people who get blamed. And they have, in fact, been able to push the administration away from what is called a clean bill, just funding the troops. And they can promise their liberal troops, the Democratic leaders can, that they can fight another day in four months if they pass this bill. But it's always hard to get from here to there and Memorial Day recess becomes the impetus that makes that happen.

MONTAGNE: With Democrats and Republicans fighting over Iraq, they are agreeing on one thing and that's about the need for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to leave his post.

ROBERTS: They certainly do seem to be agreeing on that. The vote of no confidence that has been proposed in the United States Senate has no real meaning. But the highest-ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, said yesterday that Gonzales would be likely to step down before such a vote so he wouldn't have this historical black mark.

Look, as you say, there's clearly no support for him on either side of the aisle. The question has been all along what's the White House going to do and whether the president can get any private assurances on confirming a successor. But we're not hearing anything from the attorney general about his plans on this.

MONTAGNE: And as we said earlier, the Senate today begins the debate on an immigration bill. The Republican leader has made it clear that there is a tough road ahead. Let's listen to a short clip. This is Senator Mitch McConnell speaking on ABC.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): It's an improvement over the status quo and an improvement over last year. Is it a perfect bill? No.

MONTAGNE: So an imperfect bill, according to Senator McConnell. How is that debate likely to play out?

ROBERTS: And according to pretty much everybody else. Look, immigration is the hardest kind of thing to do. I remembering covering the bill in 1986 that is now coming under attack again from both sides, saying it helped cause some of the problems of today. And both sides are now shooting at this bill.

Pro-immigration groups say that the fact that it eliminates preferences for family members of current immigrants means that it will encourage more illegal immigration. Business groups say it doesn't do enough to solve their worker shortages.

Rush Limbaugh is saying that it's going to be the death knell of the Republican Party because it has a road to citizenship. That might encourage some Democrats, of course, to vote for it.

It's, you know, a test of a presidency at a time when the president is at terrible approval ratings. And the Democrats have to decide whether they think it's important enough to try to fix the immigration problems to actually do this.

You do have Senator Kennedy leading on it, but you had the speaker yesterday saying, basically, show me 70 Republican votes in the House of Representatives for this bill and I will then see where the Democrats are.

That's going to be hard to do. The Senate takes it up, starts amending it. It will take a couple of weeks to do that. And then we'll see whether the House likes it enough to bring it to the floor.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts.

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