My longtime friend Richard A. Viguerie issued a press release congratulating grassroots America for killing the Immigration Bill. I hope Richard is right. I fear he is not. In all of the years I have been here I never have known when the establishment really wants something that the establishment cannot obtain it. And the establishment really wants this bill.
Some critics point to the need for cloture, saying that proponents have too far to go before they can proceed with debate. Wrong. If the Republicans point to those amendments upon which they insist there be a vote, if that is a reasonable number (and it would be because Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted to pass the bill), then each party can negotiate over which amendments will kill the deal. If each party will withdraw one, then that will deliver 10 to a dozen votes right there.
That still leaves a few votes short of proceeding with the bill, and mark my word, if we proceed with the debate there will be more than 60 votes to pass the bill.
This is where President George W. Bush comes in. The President is very unpopular. He is at only 28% popularity, the lowest since Harry S. Truman. So the critics of the bill say he does not have the clout to pass the bill. Wrong.
Every President in each Congress can get most anything he wants if he is involved. By involved I don't mean merely personally twisting arms. Then what do I mean? Think of who will be voting on this bill. They are Senators, right? There are some Senators, such as Jim W. DeMint of South Carolina and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who are principled. There is little which can be done to tinker with this bill which would cause those Senators to vote for it. But how about some others, who want something and are not up for re-election? The President has what they want. What is it? I don't know. It may be a federal building named after the Senator. It may be a new major road. It could be the appointment of someone at the White House, at the Justice Department or whatever. Often getting these votes is very costly. We might find out about the cost a long time after the fact. Usually we never learn the cost.
Remember when opponents of the prescription drug benefit were absolutely sure that they had the votes to kill that provision of the Medicare Bill. The leadership held the vote open for hours past the usual time for roll calls. The drug benefit was then approved by a couple of votes. I happen to know that the President spoke with holdout Members one by one, who ended up caving. I spoke with two of the Members who had been absolutely opposed to the drug benefit. Each one confessed to having spoken with the President the night of the vote. One Member told me what he had asked of the President. It appears that the President kept his word. I asked the other Member what he had requested of the President and whether the President had kept his word. I was told not to go there.
I saw the late Senator Gordon L. Allott (R-CO) get things from President Lyndon B. Johnson. The things Allot wanted were not for himself but rather for the people of Colorado. As he told me, he only bargained with President Johnson when he intended to vote for the bill anyway. He would have voted for the measure whether or not Johnson gave him something. He knew how to play the game.
Let me quote the late Senator Carl T. Curtis (R-NE) when he was asked to get something for Nebraska during the Nixon Administration. Said Curtis, "All of my clout went out the window when Johnson went out of office. I could get things from Johnson. From Nixon I get nothing."
So here we are. Bush badly needs the Immigration Bill. Without it what is his legacy? Justices and judges will retire or die. We may not know for half a century if it really were wise to have fought the various wars. The War on Terror comes to mind. Because Bush went after the radical Muslims he may be looked upon far more favorably than he is now? The missile shield? Even if Russia co-operates, the system may not be fully deployed for decades. The tax cuts which have resulted in 65 months of economic growth? If the Democrats get in they want them expired or repealed. Ah, but the Immigration Bill? Love it or hate it, that is something which, if passed, Bush will be remembered for the way FDR still is remembered for supposedly saving the country. So Bush will do whatever he needs to do to pass the bill.
What of the Viguerie point that the grassroots defeated this bill? It could still turn out to be correct. But did you hear Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) on ABC last weekend? He said he received more calls than at any time during his service in the Senate, which began in January of 1973. Still, he said, if a few little things were done here and there he would be prepared to vote for the bill. Senator Domenici is up for re-election in 2008. Maybe he wants commitments for additional fundraisers.
I was here during the Panama Canal fight. Mail and calls (before e-mail) were heavy, such as now. Senators just didn't get it. They ignored the public, as I believe they are prepared to do so again. You would have to live and work in this atmosphere to understand. It is counter-intuitive. You would think if a Senator were up for re-election and were deluged with contacts from home he would want to pay attention to what his constituents think. No. Senators are told when they are elected to keep in mind that they are elected to use their best judgment and after all they know more than the people back home. I will never forget when Jeremiah Denton was elected Senator from Alabama. He had every possible strike against him yet he made it. He carried Alabama by a much large margin than did Ronald Reagan. It was the values voters who elected him because he spoke their language. He carried parts of Alabama which no Republican ever had carried. As soon as he got here Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker, Jr. (R-TN) told him that this social-issue stuff was fine for getting elected but if he wanted to advance here in Washington he would need to put all that behind him. Unfortunately he listened to Senator Baker. Believe you me, if you see Senators up re-election inexplicably voting for the Immigration Bill you can bet that some modern-day Baker equivalent is whispering that any new Senator really knows more than the voters.
If Viguerie is correct I will drink liquorless champagne. It will mean that the establishment has finally been defeated when it really wants something.