President to Announce Border Plan in TV Address

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President Bush addresses the nation tonight from the Oval Office on the subject of illegal immigration. He is expected to call for the deployment of National Guard troops to help seal America's border with Mexico. Renee Montagne talks with analyst Cokie Roberts about the president's speech.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.


And I'm Renee Montagne. President Bush will address the nation from the Oval Office tonight. It's something the president has done only a few times before, and all of those speeches were on the subject of war and the fight against terrorism. Tonight's address is expected to be on another matter: immigration.

Joining me now is NPR's News analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: There have been so many previews of this speech, Cokie. Are there likely to be any surprises?

ROBERTS: Well, maybe the White House can come up with some surprises, Renee. But I think the thrust of the speech is likely to be what we know, which is that the president is going to call for thousands of National Guard troops along the Mexican border; it's part of his whole get-tough strategy aimed at pleasing conservatives both inside and outside of Congress. And it's already controversial.

He reportedly received a phone call last night from Mexican President Fox worried about this proposal. President Bush said that he is not militarizing the border. A Republican Senator, Chuck Hagel, said yesterday on ABC that this was stretching the military way too thin, that National Guard troops are already going over and over again to Iraq, and that they can't take on any more duties.

Senator Frist, the majority leader, said that's ridiculous, that absolutely there needs to be a military presence at the border. So you can see the outlines of the Senate debate that's coming up.

In fact, there already are National Guard troops at the border. In Arizona, the Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano has asked for more National Arizona Guard to go to the border.

So it's a touchy issue along that border with Mexico for Democrats, as well as Republicans.

MONTAGNE: In the past, the president has been very clear that he wants a guest worker program. Is he abandoning this idea?

ROBERTS: No, I think that part of the idea here is is that by coming out on the border security part of the equation, that he will please some of the, as I said, conservatives in the Congress, show the members of the House, who have already passed a very tough border security bill, that he is paying attention to them, while trying to get his guest worker provisions into the Senate bill, and try to get, you know, some sort of compromise there; and then get the legislative achievement of an immigration bill. That's the goal here.

MONTAGNE: And, Cokie, at the same time that the president is preparing what is expected to be a get-tough speech, the first lady is on the airwaves sounding consolatory.

ROBERTS: She has been every place and, of course, the excuse of Mother's Day was there yesterday, but she's wildly popular, Renee, and she was talking about women's education in Iraq and Afghanistan, and helping with schools on the Gulf Coast. She was asked on ABC if she was a feminist, and she said, of course, I am.

So, you know, there's a certain amount of reaching out to the middle, and to Independents and moderates that the first lady is doing while the president is trying to talk to the conservative base. Even more interesting, in some ways, is the interviews over the last couple of weeks by Mary Cheney, the vice president's daughter.

At the same time that we're hearing that the Republicans are planning a campaign based on getting out the conservative vote and talking about the amendment against gay marriage, Mary Cheney is out saying that she is very much against that amendment and almost left the presidential campaign over it. So a lot of sort of mixed messages coming out of the White House team.

MONTAGNE: Also at the top of the Washington agenda this week, Senate confirmation hearings for General Michael Hayden as the president's new CIA director. How confrontational do you expect those hearings to be?

ROBERTS: I think quite confrontational, Renee. Not because the Senators don't like Michael Hayden. They do like him; they've made that clear. But with new revelations about wiretaps on telephones, in addition to domestic surveillance, he's going to get a lot of questions about that, and Democrats are not ready to give him a pass.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR's News analyst Cokie Roberts.

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