Gauging the Chances of Senate's Immigration Bill Andrea Seabrook talks with E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, and Matt Continetti of The Weekly Standard about the political prospects of the immigration compromise that emerged Thursday from the Senate. It has the approval of the White House, but support for it is tepid, at best, from party leaders on Capitol Hill.

Gauging the Chances of Senate's Immigration Bill

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ANDREA SEABROOK, Host:

For more in the immigration compromise, we're joined by E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution and The Washington Post, and Matthew Continetti of The Weekly Standard and author of "The K Street Gang."

Welcome, gentlemen.

DIONNE: Thank you.

SEABROOK: It's interesting that the immigration issue doesn't split along party lines. In Brian Naylor's piece we just heard a minute ago, it seems to divide both parties. Matthew Continetti, explain the rifts in the Republican Party here.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI: I think it divides some parties more than others and in this case it divides the GOP more than et al. And basically, in fact, the division is between, of course, the business wing of the Republican Party, which wants to see the labor supply move pretty much unfettered. And then the more conservative elements of the GOP, which have nationalist concerns about American culture and identity, and also security concerns about securing the border. And I believe that gap is pretty much unbridgeable at this point.

SEABROOK: It also divides Democrats, doesn't it, E.J.?

DIONNE: Right. I think Matt's right. It divides Republicans much more. Democrats, there are some Democrats who are very anti-immigration. But most Democrats want to solve this problem - are conscious of the problem of 12 million or 10 million people here in an undocumented way.

But a lot of Democrats are very worried about provisions that would create a guest worker program of 400,000 to 600,000 people. Where these folks would come in for a short period of time then have to go back home, they could not ever establish the same kind of labor rights as people who are here permanently could - that's why a lot of the unions don't like it.

And because they'd be shipped in and out, in principle, they could easily be exploited. We have the Bracero Program a long, long time ago for farm workers, which became a very, very unpopular. So I think, you know, there are Goldilocks compromises and there are ugly duckling compromises. The Goldilocks compromise not too hot, not too cold, just right. A lot of people come around to a political center and support it.

In this case, the question is whether some of the provisions that offend people on the right, it's - we are letting in too many immigrants and legalizing people who had been here illegally, they call it amnesty. On the other side, these fears are about the temporary worker program, whether those become so important that they killed the bill and the people left in the middle are a very small group.

SEABROOK: Even though it's not an election year, gentlemen, sometimes it feels like it, especially for us. And there are election year politics at play here, aren't they, E.J.?

DIONNE: Yes, and I think that it's going to be particularly interesting in the Republican primary because as Matt said, the Republicans are more divided. And also there is Tom Tancredo - probably the leading voice in Congress against immigration - who's going to push the other candidates to the wall. McCain is sympathetic to immigration reform. Romney, for example, has sent negative sounds. Democrats are just being very cautious. Say, at least in their early comments because I don't think they have figured out how this is going to land yet.

CONTINETTI: This is a congressional fight, and I think the key player is going to be Minority Leader Boehner. And whether he decides to go with the sentiments in his caucus, which are against any deal, or he decides to work with the Bush administration and give Bush a victory in the last months of his presidency. The sentiment among Hill Republicans is that they don't owe the Bush administration any favors at this point.

SEABROOK: But Matthew Continetti, you just said it's a congressional fight. The president has worked out a deal with members of the Senate. That leaves the House and it's a really different beast, isn't it?

CONTINETTI: Absolutely. And we heard in the article that up to 60 Republican votes - 70 Republican votes in the House may be necessary to cover for the Democrats who will vote against the bill. I just don't see that happening. And the fact is, as E.J. said, this sort of ugly duckling compromise will land us back in a situation we had last year, where the Senate and the House proved irreconcilable on the issue of immigration.

DIONNE: And I think the Democratic demand for 40, 60, 70 votes is very interesting. It's not just, I think, there are going to be Democrats in the House who will vote against it on principle. I don't think Democrats want to take any risks on behalf of President Bush unless he puts something up here. They know that the House Republicans are inclined to go at them. Hammer and (Unintelligible) the 2008 election on this issue wherever it's going to work for them. And so they really want the cover to say this really was bipartisan. We didn't do it alone. And so that's - the desire to hold the House again by the Democrats is a very - is another complicating factor in getting this passed.

SEABROOK: It's fascinating to watch that President Bush and Democrats - at least in the Senate for right now - can be tooth and claw at each other over some kind of compromise with Iraq and turn around and forge this compromise on immigration.

CONTINETTI: Absolutely. It shows that some of the heated partisan battles in Washington are more light than reality here. And of course, just last week, the administration had what they view as a victory with Congress and trade negotiation pacts to smaller deals that are going to be allowed through. So I think the administration believes that they can get a similar deal worked out with Congress. But I believe they underestimate the anti-amnesty sentiment among the Republican grassroots. And you go on any conservative Web site and you'll see them up in arms over the Senate compromise. And I'm sure they're going to be calling their congressmen very soon.

SEABROOK: E.J., if immigration doesn't break down by party, as we've been saying, how does it break down? Is this a regional fight? Is this urban versus rural?

DIONNE: I think there are many factors. First of all, there is a large Latino population - even though Latino population isn't entirely united around this issue. But on the whole, their sentiment for saying all these people are here. They're working. It's crazy to keep them in an illegal situation.

As Matt said, there's big business, which is theoretically a Republican constituency but also contributes a lot of money to the Democrats. There are the unions who were very interesting because a lot of unions have sort of switched their position over the years, particularly the service employees who have organized a lot of low-income Latinos. They're willing to be open on immigration but they're not willing - it's not going to be easy for them to buy this temporary worker program. And then there are culturally conservative Americans who worry about the impact to the large-scale immigration on the country. We've had those fights for about 150 years starting when the Irish came in a long time ago.

SEABROOK: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and Matthew Continetti of The Weekly Standard and author of "The K Street Gang."

Thank you both very much.

CONTINETTI: Thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

SEABROOK: And now we want to hear from you. Tell us what you think about the immigration proposal right now by going to npr.org and selecting Contact Us at the top of the page. Go right now. Make sure to choose ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. We'll read some of your comments today, a half hour from now, on the air.

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