Posted on August 23, 2004

GOP To Finesse Immigration Issue

Ralph Z. Hallow, Washington Times, Aug. 23

The Republican Party’s platform will oppose amnesty for illegal aliens, predicts Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the platform committee chairman.

“I believe it likely there will be a strong statement against amnesty,” the Tennessee Republican said in an interview with The Washington Times.

President Bush’s “guest-worker” proposal for dealing with illegal immigration, which he outlined in a White House speech in January, includes a limited, three-year amnesty for qualified illegal aliens holding jobs in the United States.

The plan has deeply angered many Republicans, who say it is meant to pander to the growing Hispanic vote, and they blame the idea on Bush advisers, including chief political strategist Karl Rove.

But in the interview, Mr. Frist emphasized that he is not taking orders on platform matters from the White House and specifically not from Mr. Rove.

“People always say, ‘How close are you working with the administration, with Rove?’ “ Mr. Frist said. “I have talked to Karl about the platform for a total of less than two minutes since I began working on this in the last month.”

The Democratic platform, adopted in Boston last month at the party’s national convention, supports offering citizenship to illegal immigrants in the United States who clear background checks.

Mr. Bush’s guest-worker plan has not been well-received even by some of the president’s closest friends and allies.

“I’m trying to understand it. But to me, illegal means illegal,” Sen. Zell Miller, a conservative Georgia Democrat who will deliver the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention next week, said of the Bush proposal.

“We are a nation of immigrants, of course; we all know that, but we are also a nation of laws and I’m having trouble reconciling that,” Mr. Miller said earlier this year.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, one of the most visible skeptics among Republican lawmakers, said, “Those that seek the American dream must follow American laws. I applaud the president for addressing this difficult and complex issue, but have heartfelt reservations about allowing illegal immigrants into a U.S. guest-worker program that seems to reward illegal behavior.”

Rep. Melissa A. Hart of Pennsylvania will lead the Republican Party’s platform subcommittee dealing with immigration.

Mr. Frist, tasked by the president with overseeing a delicate political balancing act, acknowledged that the Bush plan is one of the most divisive issues facing Republicans as they prepare to gather in New York for their national convention next week.

Mr. Frist, a former surgeon, said he has heard concerns about Mr. Bush’s proposal from many Republicans, including some of the 110 platform committee members — all of whom also are delegates to the Republican National Convention.

“Delegates may not be in complete sync with the president’s past proposals or policies,” he said. “I predict the platform subcommittee . . . will spend a substantial amount of time debating immigration.”

The draft platform, being written by staff working under Mr. Frist’s direction, will get its first airing on Wednesday morning by the 26 convention delegates chosen to sit on the platform subcommittee dealing with immigration.

The problem for Mr. Frist, he acknowledged, is that, in order to avoid a possible convention floor fight, the platform’s immigration plank has to be written in such a way as to reconcile, or at least appear to reconcile, the irreconcilable. That is, it has to oppose amnesty, but not oppose the president’s plan, which includes a temporary amnesty that also, as some critics claim, can lead to citizenship for those granted amnesty.

“The document,” Mr. Frist acknowledged, “has to reflect the president’s principles and at same time the party’s principles and policies.”