Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Mike Pence: the Powerbroker on Immigration?

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George Stephanopoulos: Is Pence the powerbroker on immigration?

The NY Times caused quite a stir here in the Capitol this morning with a front page story headlined BUSH SIGNALING SHIFT IN STANCE ON IMMIGRATION, but the star of the piece is not the President but an up-and-coming conservative Congressman from Indiana named Mike Pence. Pence runs a caucus of die-hard House conservatives and he's drafted an immigration bill designed to bridge the gap between his colleagues and President. It would combine enforcement and border security provisions passed by the House with a new guest worker program if 3 conditions are met: 1.) the guest worker program would be delayed for at least 2 years; 2.) it wouldn't take effect until the President certified that the borders are secure; 3.) anyone now in the country illegally would have to leave the country before being allowed in as a guest worker.

President Bush told Pence that he was "intrigued" by the proposal at an Oval Office meeting last Wednesday, and Pence is peddling that encouragement for all its worth -- to Senators, his colleagues and the NY Times (which got the helpful detail that Pence's meeting with the President "stretched" from 20-40 minutes). With that piece, Pence made his bill more prominent than ever, and the President got a headline showing that he hasn't given up hope on legislation that had been on life support. But I don't think all the behind the scenes meetings or the front page headline signal real progress on immigration reform.

Pence's third condition is a bottom line requirement for most House Republicans, and a deal breaker for most Republicans and Democrats who voted for the Senate bill. Even if the President signed on to it (which would be a major shift), there are more than 40 solid votes in the Senate against it. This means there's no way to break a filibuster. Today's story was a good read, and it was good for Congressman Pence. But it was more about the President getting well with his base than getting immigration reform signed into law this year.

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