Political Roundup: Immigration Policy

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Madeleine Brand talks with with senior correspondent Juan Williams about the political pressures of immigration policy, and what may happen to the president's guest worker proposal in the Senate.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, how kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll was forced to make a propaganda video to win her release.

BRAND: But first, President Bush ended a summit in Cancun, Mexico today. He was meeting with Mexico's President, Vicente Fox, and Canada's new prime minister, Stephen Harper. Immigration was a big topic at the summit, and back in Washington it dominated the debate this week. For analysis, we're joined now by NPR's senior correspondent, Juan Williams. Hi, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: Juan, we started off the week with these competing Senate immigration bills, and as we end it are we any closer?

WILLIAMS: Well, no, not yet. The President gets back, as you were saying, and so he'll be here to apply his special touch next week to the continuing negotiations. But I think it's interesting, if you look at the splits that exist on both sides of the aisle at the moment. I mean, take a personality like Ted Kennedy, identified by most as a liberal, but Ted Kennedy, while he's pro-immigration and trying to reform in a way that would allow for guest residency, which is what the President wants, while he's working with John McCain even to allow for permanent residency if people meet certain marks in terms of paying fines, proving they have employment and the like, he's also under pressure from some in the labor movement who say, well, wait a second, if we have a wave of immigrants who become legalized, it could have a depressing effect on wages for other low-income workers.

And of course, there are others then, especially in some of the service unions that have large Hispanic populations that say, no, we want Senator Kennedy to be sympathetic and to help with this problem. So you see that kind of divide on the left, if you will, among the Democrats. Then on the right, you have some really interesting splits. For instance, the Speaker of the House, Denny Hastert, has been responding to a populous push for increased security. That's all the bill in the House is about, is increased security, more customs officials, more border guards, even talk of building that wall.

And at the same time then, you have now pressure coming, that pressure extending, I should say, to Senator Frist, the majority leader in the Senate, who's bill, his bill was all about security, but the negotiated bill, the one in the Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Arlen Specter, again has to do with guest workers and making it possible for permanent residency.

So you see, lots of pressures and, you know, demographics are driving this, but here in Washington politics are part of the picture, Madeleine.

BRAND: Mm hmm, and speaking of politics, there has been some second guessing of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and his motivations for introducing his bill.

WILLIAMS: Without a doubt. Among the political class, the focus on Frist is that, look, you know, this is a guy that did post-stem cell research. Don't forget what he did, Madeleine, on Terry Schiavo. And now here he is taking the populous position on immigration, rather than offering what some might call real leadership to get something done. And in fact he's taking on the President on this because the President is taking the business side, which is that we need low-wage workers to keep the economy humming.

In addition to which you've got to think about what Frist has planned. I mean, he's a guy that's going to bring to the floor an amendment on banning flag burning, defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. Both of these amendments have failed to win two-thirds of the majority in the past, and you know, the question is why is he bringing it up now? And the answer is, of course, he wants to get the base of the party on his side to demonstrate his allegiance to them and possibly tear them away from Senator John McCain, his potential opponent for the Republican nomination.

BRAND: All right. In other news, quickly, there's been another guilty plea in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. This is now from a former top aide to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Who is this? And what has he admitted doing?

WILLIAMS: Tony Rudy, who was Tom DeLay's former deputy chief of staff, and what he did was he admitted that he was conspiring with Jack Abramoff, and as you know, Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud charges in January and was sentenced just this week in Florida. And Abramoff continues to work with investigators to talk about possible corruption, further corruption in the Congress. So what you see is that Rudy, a guy who was arranging golf trips to Scotland, a guy who was arranging, you know, to help stop gambling, Internet gambling, which was opposed by Abramoff's clients, those Indian tribes, and to stop some of the taxation.

This is the kind thing that people have been talking about as examples of corruption in Washington.

BRAND: Thank you. NPR Senior Correspondent Juan Williams.

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