Senate Immigration Bill Built on Fragile Deal
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And joining us now is Congressional Correspondent David Welna, who has been following the immigration debate for weeks now. Good morning, David.
DAVID WELNA reporting:
Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: You just heard Congressman Blunt. Do you see grounds for a compromise between the House and the Senate? I mean, he was sounding a little conciliatory.
WELNA: He was. In fact, the Senate bill and the House bill both have many common elements; they have to do with border security and also with workplace enforcement. And I'm sure that any kind of compromise legislation that comes out of the Conference Committee would contain those provisions.
There are other things, too; such as the House bill would make it a felony to be in the country illegally. And House leaders have already said they're willing to reduce that to a misdemeanor. The Senate bill has it being a misdemeanor for those who sneaked in illegally. Those kinds of could emerge, but I think the thing that's very difficult to reconcile is that fact that the Senate bill, unlike the House bill, has a guest worker program and it also has provisions for people who are in the country illegally - millions of people - to find legal means to remain here. That is where I think things are going to get extremely difficult. And it's very uncertain how much of that is going to remain in some kind of compromise bill.
MONTAGNE: Well, as we've just been saying, the Senate bill has carefully crafted compromises, very delicate in a way, meant to keep a coalition of Republicans and Democrats together. If that compromise is even tinkered with, as Congressman Blunt suggested might be happening, would there be enough support in the Senate for an immigration bill?
WELNA: It's really not clear, because I think the Democrats who supported the Senate bill were adamant that their had to be some path for legalization for most of those who are in the country illegally. And if that were not in a compromise bill - this is what opponents call an amnesty - those Democrats, I think, would not be willing to sign onto this. And interestingly, yesterdays in the Senate, you had many Republican Senators who are up for reelection this fall who voted against the Senate bill. So I think that you're going to find a lot of pressure coming from Republicans not to include those provisions, tremendous pressure from Democrats to include them. Many say that the provisions providing a legal path to those here illegally are extremely unworkable and complicated, that would be another strike against them. So it's really not clear whether they're going to be able to hold this coalition together.
MONTAGNE: What is it going to take for those Republicans who oppose the idea of allowing people in this country illegally to then continue to stay here - what is it going to take for them to allow that to be part of a final bill.
WELNA: Well, I think that the key person in this may be President Bush. He spoke to the nation last week, and specifically endorsed the idea of allowing some of those here illegally to remain in the country. He has been pushing House Republicans hard on this, sending Karl Rove over a couple times to do so, as you mentioned with Congressman Blunt. And I think that if the president is able to persuade House Republicans that the party's fortunes, especially in the November elections, rest on getting some kind of immigration legislation out of Congress by then. That's going to be key.
However, President Bush has a lot of friction right now with Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert over various issues. And those tensions are going to overshadow, I think, the president's efforts to lobby his fellow Republicans in the House.
MONTAGNE: And timing - is it possible that Congress could enact immigration legislation before the November midterm elections?
WELNA: I think that depends very much on how quickly they can reach some sort of a compromise. There are man members of Congress who would just as soon leave this until after the elections, however, there are some Republicans who think that they could be hurt by voters who expected something, at least, when they go to the polls in the fall. And Democrats are saying that this is something that may be a winner for them in the end, if there is no bill, because they would say this Republican Congress failed to come up with one.
MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.
WELNA: You're welcome, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR Congressional Correspondent David Welna.