NPR logo

Bush, GOP Senators Talk Immigration on Capitol Hill

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/10991506/10991507" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Bush, GOP Senators Talk Immigration on Capitol Hill

Politics

Bush, GOP Senators Talk Immigration on Capitol Hill

Bush, GOP Senators Talk Immigration on Capitol Hill

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/10991506/10991507" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

President Bush made a rare visit to Capitol Hill on Tuesday. He had lunch with Senate Republicans — and plugged the immigration bill that he supports but which many GOP senators oppose. The president said the current situation on immigration is unacceptable. But it's not clear whether he gained any new votes with his visit.

Last week, a test vote for the immigration bill failed in the Senate, effectively stalling the measure, which would legalize the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States while tightening border security and instituting a temporary guest worker program. It's the first part that has alienated many republicans from the measure, which they call amnesty.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he didn't think any Republican who attended the lunch was unimpressed by the president's feelings on the issue, but he said there no clear converts to the president's cause.

Bush Goes to Hill to Woo GOP on Immigration

President Bush talks to the media following a meeting with Republican senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), at the Capitol in Washington, June 12, 2007. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

President Bush acknowledged there is still a lot of disagreement on the immigration reform bill at the end of Tuesday's lunch meeting with GOP senators, but he vowed to continue with his effort to pass comprehensive immigration legislation.

"Now is the time to get it done," he said. "It's going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of effort.

The Bush administration negotiated the controversial immigration proposal with leaders from both parties, but it has critics in both parties. The plan creates a path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants now in the U.S. and tightens security at the border.

Many conservative Republicans say the plan is tantamount to giving amnesty to immigrants who are in the country illegally.

But the president stressed that the bill will provide for good workplace enforcement and not give automatic citizenship, while making it easier for border security agents to enforce immigration laws. "We've got to convince the American people that this bill is the best way to enforce our border. I believe without the bill it's going to be harder to enforce the border," he said. "The status quo is unacceptable."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pulled the measure from the floor Thursday night because it fell 15 votes short of the number needed to move it on to final passage.

Reid has said he will do everything possible to return the bill to the floor for consideration, and he is looking to the president to deliver the necessary Republican votes.

After the lunch meeting, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (D-KY) said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell it is too soon to tell if the president won over the votes needed to pass the bill. He said it will probably depend upon how the bill looks in its final form.

At Tuesday's lunch meeting, President Bush said he also briefed the Republican senators on his trip to Europe for the Group of Eight summit and his discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the U.S. plan to put elements of a missile defense shield in eastern Europe.

With support for the Iraq war at a low point, the president has hoped that the immigration legislation would be part of the legacy he builds during his final two years in office.