Time's Klein ignored Bush flip-flop on immigration in touting his "conscience" and consistency

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

On CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, Time columnist Joe Klein praised President Bush's proposed immigration reforms, claiming that Bush's position on immigration is "deeply held," that while campaigning for the presidency in 2000 Bush would "take essentially the same position he took last night," and that Bush is "going up against the conservative base of the Republican Party on a matter of conscience." However, Klein ignored the White House's reported advocacy of an amendment to Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner's (R-WI) controversial immigration bill that would have facilitated criminal prosecutions of illegal immigrants -- a position nowhere to be found in Bush's recent speech on immigration.

On the May 16 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, Time columnist Joe Klein praised President Bush's proposed immigration reforms, which Bush laid out in a May 15 nationally televised address, claiming that Bush's position on immigration is "deeply held," that while campaigning for the presidency in 2000 Bush would "take essentially the same position he took last night," and that Bush is "going up against the conservative base of the Republican Party on a matter of conscience." However, Klein's praise of Bush ignored the White House's reported advocacy of an amendment to Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner's (R-WI) controversial immigration bill that would have facilitated criminal prosecutions of illegal immigrants -- a position nowhere to be found in Bush's May 15 speech.

Sensenbrenner's bill contains a provision making it a felony to be an illegal resident of the United States. In Sensenbrenner's own words, the administration pushed for the crime to be lowered to a misdemeanor because such a move would ensure that "more prosecutions are likely to be brought against those aliens whose cases merit criminal prosecution." Also, the administration praised the House for passing Sensenbrenner's "strong immigration reform bill" in December 2005.

From the May 16 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

DOBBS: It's interesting, you're enthusiastic, Joe. I'm enthusiastic, too, because I believe that the president, either by design or otherwise, did begin to raise the consciousness of the -- of the public about the issues we're confronting. In some of the outright lack of reporting, certainly, and lack of honesty about what is a very confounded and confused immigration system.

KLEIN: Look, this is a deeply held position with the president. I would watch him during the 2000 campaign night after night go into country club, conservative Republican audiences and be asked hostile questions about immigration and take essentially the same position he took last night. I -- I think that it's really important for journalists to acknowledge it when a politician goes up against his base as he's going up against the conservative base of the Republican Party on a matter of conscience.

But Bush has not always butted heads with his conservative base on immigration issues. As Media Matters for America noted, Sensenbrenner, in a December 16, 2005, statement on the House floor, noted that the administration supported an amendment to the House bill to facilitate criminal prosecutions:

SENSENBRENNER: The administration subsequently requested the penalty for these crimes be lowered to 6 months. Making the first offense a felony, as the base bill would do, would require a grand jury indictment, a trial before a district court judge and a jury trial.

Also because it is a felony, the defendant would be able to get a lawyer at public expense if the defendant could not afford the lawyer. These requirements would mean that the government would seldom if ever actually use the new penalties. By leaving these offenses as misdemeanors, more prosecutions are likely to be brought against those aliens whose cases merit criminal prosecution.

For this reason, the amendment returns the sentence for illegal entry to its current 6 months and sets the penalty for unlawful presence at the same level.

Also, Bush released a statement on December 16, 2005, praising the House for passing Sensenbrenner's bill: "I applaud the House for passing a strong immigration reform bill. America is a nation built on the rule of law, and this bill will help us protect our borders and crack down on illegal entry into the United States. Securing our borders is essential to securing the homeland. I urge the Senate to take action on immigration reform so that I can sign a good bill into law."

The Associated Press reported on May 17 that Sensenbrenner accused Bush and the White House of backing his immigration bill and requesting some of its more controversial features before, in Sensenbrenner's words, "turn[ing] his back on provisions of the House-passed bill." From the May 17 AP article:

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who has pushed a tough border security bill through the House, accused President Bush on Wednesday of abandoning the legislation after asking for many of its provisions.

"He basically turned his back on provisions of the House-passed bill, a lot of which we were requested to put in the bill by the White House," Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., angrily told reporters in a conference call. "That was last fall when we were drafting the bill, and now the president appears not to be interested in it at all."

Sensenbrenner chairs the House Judiciary Committee and would be the House's chief negotiator on any final immigration package for Bush's signature. He said it was the White House that had requested two controversial felony provisions in the bill the House passed last winter.

"We worked very closely with White House in the fall in putting together the border security bill that the House passed," he said. "... What we heard in November and December, he seems to be going in the opposite direction in May. That is really at the crux of this irritation," he said of Bush.

The "two controversial felony provisions" the AP referred to are the felony provision noted above, and a provision making it a felony to "assist[], encourage[], direct[], or induce[] a person to reside in or remain in the United States, or to attempt to reside in or remain in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such person is an alien who lacks lawful authority to reside in or remain in the United States," a provision also present in the bill that Bush originally praised.

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Joe Klein, Lou Dobbs
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