For them before he was against them before he was for them: NY Times' Stolberg ignored Bush's alleged flip-flop on House immigration provisions

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

The New York Times reported that President Bush recently "signal[ed] a new willingness to negotiate with House Republicans" on tackling immigration, adding that "[t]he shift is significant because Mr. Bush has repeatedly said he favors legislation like the Senate's immigration bill." But the Times made no mention of the fact that the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee accused the White House of abandoning its original support of some of the harshest provisions in the House bill on immigration, including a provision that would make undocumented presence in the country a crime.

In a July 5 article by reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times reported that President Bush "signal[ed] a new willingness to negotiate with House Republicans" on tackling immigration, adding that "[t]he shift is significant because Mr. Bush has repeatedly said he favors legislation like the Senate's immigration bill." But undermining Stolberg's suggestion that Bush has only recently begun to express support for the House bill's "enforcement-only" approach to immigration is the accusation by the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that the White House abandoned its original support of some of the harshest provisions in the House bill, including a provision that would make undocumented presence in the country a crime.

As Media Matters for America previously noted, according to the House bill's author, Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the Bush administration pushed for the House bill's felony provisions. From Sensenbrenner's December 16, 2005, floor statement, in which he asserted that the White House had advocated the provision making illegal presence a felony and then advocated the reduction of the crime to a misdemeanor in order to facilitate prosecution:

SENSENBRENNER: At the administration's request, the base bill makes unlawful presence a crime, such as unlawful entry already is. This change makes sense. Aliens who have disregarded our laws by overstaying their visas to remain in the United States illegally should be just as culpable as aliens who have broken our laws to enter and remain here illegally.

In the base bill, the maximum penalty for illegal entry was increased to a year and a day, and the same penalty was set for unlawful presence, to make the enhancements for these offenses consistent with the other penalty enhancements of the bill.

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.

As Media Matters previously noted, in a May 17 Associated Press article, Sensenbrenner responded to President Bush's more recent expression of support for the Senate approach by accusing Bush of changing his position:

"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.''

The Times article did not even address the felony provision as a major difference between Senate and House bills -- a difference the Times has ignored before, as Media Matters has noted. Nor did the Times note that Bush issued a statement last December in which he "applaud[ed] the House for a strong immigration reform bill" and cited its enforcement provisions, stating: "[T]his 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." And the Times made no mention of Sensenbrenner's accusation that Bush "turned his back" on key provisions in the House bill.

From the July 5 article in The New York Times:

On the eve of nationwide hearings that could determine the fate of his immigration bill, President Bush is signaling a new willingness to negotiate with House Republicans in an effort to revise the stalled legislation before Election Day.

Republicans both inside and outside the White House say Mr. Bush, who has long insisted on comprehensive reform, is now open to a so-called enforcement-first approach that would put new border security programs in place before creating a guest worker program or path to citizenship for people living in the United States illegally.

"He thinks that this notion that you can have triggers is something we should take a close look at, and we are," said Candi Wolff, the White House director of legislative affairs, referring to the idea that guest worker and citizenship programs would be triggered when specific border security goals had been met, a process that could take two years.

The shift is significant because Mr. Bush has repeatedly said he favors legislation like the Senate's immigration bill, which establishes border security, guest worker and citizenship programs all at once. The enforcement-first approach puts Mr. Bush one step closer to the House, where Republicans are demanding an enforcement-only measure.

"The willingness to consider a phased-in situation, that's a pretty big concession from where they were at," said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, whose closeness to Mr. Bush dates to his days as a top Republican National Committee official. "It's a suggestion they are willing to negotiate."

[. . .]

Whether Mr. Bush would accept that is not clear. Aides to Mr. Bush, including Karl Rove, the White House chief political strategist, and Tony Snow, the press secretary, say he remains adamant that any bill must address the status of the immigrants who are here illegally.

But one Republican close to the White House, granted anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, predicted that Mr. Bush would ultimately abandon the idea of a path to citizenship.

Giving up, though, would doom the legislation in the Senate. Mr. [Rep. Mike] Pence [R-IN] met last week with leading Republican senators, including Mr. [Arlen] Specter [PA], John McCain of Arizona and Mel Martinez of Florida.

In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Specter said that proponents of the Senate bill "are determined to see comprehensive" legislation, and that "comprehensive means all parts, including the 11 million." But he also said that he was very interested in Mr. Pence's approach, and that the tenor of the meeting was that the Senate could "move toward a middle ground" with the House.

Posted In
Immigration
Network/Outlet
The New York Times
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