Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The bitter battle over the immigration bill has become a legislative minefield in this election year, though it's still unclear whether November will see any heavy political fallout as a result.

To put it mildly, this issue is a thorny wilderness, festering intra-party divisions and brewing voter backlashes. It could inflict additional wounds on George W. Bush's battle-scarred presidency, shrink the GOP's congressional Republican majority and, possibly, hurt some vulnerable Democrats.

Let's slice up some of these pitfalls.

Frankly, it's difficult to see how the House and Senate can agree on a compromise bill that can attract a majority in either chamber. Their two respective bills are seemingly opposed to one another.

The House wants beefed up, effective border enforcement only and no other reforms until we've prevented all illegals from crossing the Mexican-U.S. border, or at least significantly reduced their numbers.

The Senate generally wants that, plus other reforms, including a guest worker program that lets migrants go back and forth across the border to take jobs in the United States when available and would allow those who've been here several years to eventually become citizens after paying taxes, fines and meeting a number of other legal requirements.

Neither side is willing to give at this point, and leaders in both chambers say each other's bill would be a nonstarter with their members.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert has a political rule on bringing bills to the floor: They must first be supported by a majority of the majority, which is a majority of Republicans. As of now, say party leaders, a majority does not exist and isn't likely to if a House-Senate conference produces a blend of the two bills that includes any citizenship provisions.

White House political strategist Karl Rove met Wednesday with House lawmakers to encourage some give in the their position, and the word coming out of the closed-door meeting was that he got "a cold reception."

This sets up a possible scenario in which the Republicans are unable to produce a bill that can win a majority of both houses and that, as much as anything, would drive Congress' dismal poll ratings even lower -- hurting the Republicans who are in charge of its legislative machinery and Bush, who would be seen as ineffectual in enacting his agenda.

Polls show strong support for the House's approach. But while that bill alone would satisfy the GOP's conservative base and a large portion of the general public, it could still come back to bite Republicans in this year's elections and beyond.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.