Conservatives cheered last week when Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pulled the immigration proposal from the Senate floor. But don’t be taking any victory laps just yet. The bill is far from dead.
Only 18 hours after Reid shelved the bill, the White House was back at work. President Bush used his weekly radio address to urge the Democrat leader to “act quickly to bring this bill back to the Senate floor for a vote.” One hour later, the White House released “Best of the Immigration Fact Check: Top 10 Common Myths,” a compilation of the administration’s finest propaganda sound-bites from the last three weeks.
One conservative on Capitol Hill remarked, “A little late, isn’t it?” No, in fact, it’s not.
From the start of the immigration debate, the White House knew it might not be able to win the first round. But Bush has invested too much time and political capital in this issue to give up easily or quickly. After all, he wasn’t even in town when the bill flagged in the Senate. Half a world away -- at the G-8 meeting in Europe -- the president was in no position to twist arms as he did so successfully in 2003 to gain a razor-thin approval of the Medicare prescription drug bill in the House of Representatives.
This time, conservatives who opposed the bill were better organized. Even before the bill was completely drafted, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) was calling it “amnesty,” setting the tone that led to its demise last week. Columnists, talk-show host and bloggers repeatedly attacked the bill’s provisions, prompting calls to congressional offices that ran, in some cases, 99 to 1 against the bill.
The next few weeks will be a crucial test for the bill’s supporters. The White House would certainly like to see the protests and anger come to a halt as conservatives declare victory, pat themselves on the back and head to the beach. But if conservatives lose focus now, there’s no telling whether they’ll be able to halt a renewed effort by the White House and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).