Politics with Ron Elving: Bush's Immigration Plan
NOAH ADAMS, host:
The President tonight will address the nation and the world, indeed, from the Oval Office about the issue of immigration. He is expected to commit between 3,000 and 6,000 National Guard troops to secure the U.S./Mexican border. The President's speech comes at a time when his polls are at all-time lows and he's lost ground among conservatives, his base of support.
NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving, joins us to talk about all of this. The immigration, the plan here, Ron, what's he trying to do with the National Guard on the border?
RON ELVING reporting:
Noah, I think what he's trying to do here is send a message to people in the United States that he's really serious about enforcing that border, militarizing it, in the term that some people like to use, although that number of troops that you mentioned is not nearly enough, of course, to make a huge difference on a 2,000-mile border.
The hope here is that people will get an image of the National Guard patrolling the border and keeping illegal immigrants out.
ADAMS: Mexico's president sent sort of a warning, a message to Washington, he didn't like this idea of the troops on the border so much.
ELVING: No, not at all. And of course, the idea of putting uniformed personnel of a military kind in the place of border patrol agents, which is really all these guys are being asked to do, is step in place of border control agents temporarily until the border control has more people.
The very specter of it, the talk of it, the movement of troops, as it were, is not seen as a friendly gesture from the standpoint of Mexico. But the president has already had to damage his relationship with Vicente Fox over this issue.
ADAMS: Now, do you think, politically speaking, could it work? Could the poll numbers come back up here?
ELVING: I think what the President has in mind is recovering that portion of his poll numbers losses that is attributable to conservatives bailing out on him. Just in the last few weeks, the number of conservatives approving his policy has fallen all the way to about 50 percent or even under 50 percent in some polls. That's a first for the President.
And so he has several things he'd like to do. He'd like to talk tougher on immigration, talk more about enforcement and less about guest worker programs for a little while, even though he still wants those programs, still plans to press for them.
And he's also going to try to reduce, or at least freeze, the number of troops in Iraq. He's going to try to cut some spending, perhaps veto a spending bill or two, and then in June we'll see a lot of legislation in the Congress about social conservative issues, such as gay marriage, abortion, things of that nature.
ADAMS: This talk tonight, as you recall, was announced in a way to kind of dampen the big story last week about, from the USA Today newspaper, about the NSA gathering information about people's telephone calls.
And we have coming up a senate intelligence committee hearing on Michael Hayden to be, Gen. Michael Hayden, to be the CIA director. Are those hearings going forward? And what's going to happen, do you think?
ELVING: The hearings are on track for Thursday. They will happen. I think the Senate, certainly the Senate Intelligence Committee, wants to confirm Mike Hayden. He's somebody they know pretty well. He's been briefing them for years. They like him.
And they don't want to hold him hostage. But now with these revelations that you referred to, plus the backdrop of the NSA eavesdropping program we learned of from The New York Times back in December, all of those programs put together make senators feel as though there's way too much going on that they know too little about.
And as a result, Mike Hayden is the target. And he's going to have to answer a lot of questions or else a couple of Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee could bail out on him. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine, they really hold the balance of power here.
ADAMS: And one more thing that's going on. Over the weekend, the blogosphere, as we've come to call it, people writing blogs about Karl Rove and possible indictments coming up. Is that on track? Is that something that may happen this week?
ELVING: Well, the special prosecutor in this particular case, Patrick Fitzgerald, is nearing the end of his probe. He's got a grand jury meeting.
And over the weekend, we saw a bombshell piece of evidence from Mr. Fitzgerald having to do with when Vice President Cheney knew about the relationship between Ambassador Joe Wilson and, of course, his wife, Valerie Plame, and where she worked.
So if that information was part of what the vice president was working with, hard for a lot of people to believe that his chief of staff and then President Bush's Senior Advisor Karl Rove were not also aware of it. That would tend to mean that the story they told to the grand jury and to Mr. Fitzgerald would strain some people's credulity.
ADAMS: NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving.
Thank you, Ron.
ELVING: Thank you, Noah.
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