House, Senate Duel on Immigration Policy

At different venues on opposite sides of the continent, represenatives and senators hold competing public hearings about their rival plans to make significant changes to the nation's immigration policies.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Today, a House anti-terrorism panel is in Laredo, Texas. They're hearing from border patrol and police officers about securing the U.S. - Mexico border.

House Republicans are on the road this summer, holding hearings around the nation to push their immigration reform bill. And for a look at the politics behind those hearings and other news from Washington, we're joined by NPR senior correspondent and regular DAY TO DAY contributor, Juan Williams.

Hi, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS correspondent:

Hello, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, what's the thinking here? How do House Republicans think these hearings will help them?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it's interesting to look at it from the other side of the political fence. Democrats are taking to calling these hearings a charade, and the reason is that Republicans, House Republicans, are pretty open in saying that what they hope to do here, is to fuel opposition to a Senate package that calls for comprehensive immigration reform. By comprehensive, that would include border security, as well as President Bush's request for some path to citizenship for the 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants already in the United States.

But just the topics, the titles of some of these hearings, Madeleine, I think is revealing. For example, there's one hearing on whether or not terrorists can enter the U.S. through Mexico. Although, obviously, we've had more terrorists entering the U.S. through the Canadian, from the Canadian side.

And then you have also, one coming later in August, on the cost of immigration, illegal immigration, specific to local and state government. So it's a lot to the negative, and trying to drive the public pressure on the president and on the Senate to change their approach to immigration.

BRAND: Well, is it working? Is it working on the president, at least?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it looks like it might be. The president had a meeting with Mike Pence, a Republican from Indiana, who is a big opponent of the comprehensive reform - feels that it's amnesty to allow people to either pay taxes or to stay in this country for a certain time and then say that they're going to petition for citizenship.

His feeling is, that they should go back home. He had a meeting with the president and the vice president, recently at the White House, in which he suggested having the illegal immigrants go to some kind of border center, outside of the United States.

And according to Candy Wolf, who is the president's legislative affairs director, the president was open to this idea, found it intriguing. Tony Snow, the press secretary, said the same thing.

And what you see here, I think, is an inclination on the president's part, to reach for a victory on immigration - that they want to get something done and not allow the Democrats, in the fall election, to be able to say that the Republicans have been absolutely paralyzed in immigration and can't get something done, although they control both houses of the Congress.

BRAND: Well, speaking of that election, let's turn to Texas. The Republicans there, got some bad news. A federal judge has ruled that Tom DeLay, the former majority leader, will stay on the ballot in the race for the Congressional seat he has vacated. What does this mean?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's a big victory for the Democrats, because what that means is you're going to have DeLay on the ballot, even though, obviously, he doesn't want the seat. But DeLay won the primary, and his idea in winning the primary in April, he said he was going to resign and move to his residence to Virginia. And the idea was that he was thwarting, not only the Democrats, but Republicans who had opposed his re-election, opposed him. And so suddenly, now you're going to have Tom DeLay still on the ballot, running against a Democrat. And it looks like that's good news for the Democrats who, again, are hoping to capture control of the House of Representatives.

BRAND: Thank you, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Madeleine.

BRAND: NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams. He is with us every Friday to talk politics.

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