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Bush, GOP Senators Talk Immigration on Capitol Hill

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Bush, GOP Senators Talk Immigration on Capitol Hill


Bush, GOP Senators Talk Immigration on Capitol Hill

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

President Bush made a rare visit to Capitol Hill today. He had lunch with Senate Republicans pushing for the immigration bill that he supports but which many GOP senators oppose. The president said the current situation on immigration is unacceptable.

But as NPR's Brian Naylor reports, it's not clear whether he gained any new votes with today's visit.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Mr. Bush spent some 90 minutes with Senate Republicans discussing a range of issues, but the focus was the stalled immigration bill. The president then spent about 90 seconds briefing reporters on his meeting - the thrust of which was that the status quo isn't working.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Some members in there believe that we need to move a comprehensive bill. Some don't. I understand that. It's a highly emotional issue. But those of us standing here believe now is the time to move a comprehensive bill that enforces our borders and has a good workplace enforcement that doesn't grant automatic citizenship, that addresses this problem in a comprehensive way.

NAYLOR: The bill, which the White House helped write, would legalize the 12 million undocumented immigrants now in the U.S. while strengthening border security and instituting a temporary guest worker program. It's the first part of legalization process that has alienated many Republicans from the measure, which they call amnesty.

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

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): There was a good give and take. We didn't expect anybody to stand up and holler that they had an epiphany. We had a very good discussion about the issue.

NAYLOR: According to Republican senators at the lunch, the president told a moving story about a recent graduate of the Naval Academy who said his grandparents could have been illegal immigrants. He also listened as Republican senators expressed their concerns with the bill.

Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota held out the possibility that after today's meeting, he could come around to support the measure - perhaps.

Senator JOHN THUNE (Republican, South Dakota): A lot of what my view on this is going to be shaped by what happens in the Senate from here on; what amendments get accepted - if we can get my amendment on the list; and if there are amendments that get adopted that improve or strengthen the bill. But I think the president was very persuasive. I mean, I think, I don't know, if he changed new minds, but I think he was very - did a very good job of making his case.

NAYLOR: Thune's amendment would require the president to certify that provisions calling for the hiring of more border patrol guards, building more fences along the border, and putting an employer verification system in place are all carried out first before the undocumented aliens would get legal status.

But one stalwart opponent of the immigration measure, Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, said he was unmoved by the president's lobbying.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): I have not changed my mind because of the fundamental myth. Could something break and carried out some changes occur? I guess it's possible. But frankly, I think in a rush-rush environment like in a few days, something's going to break. I doubt that can occur.

NAYLOR: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he wants to see support from 25 Republicans before he'll bring the bill back to the floor. It was pulled last week, some 15 votes short of the number necessary to end debate. It's unclear whether the president's visit today will be enough to push Republicans to that threshold.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, The Capitol.

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