Norah O'Donnell baselessly asserted that prior to President Bush's recently expressed openness to the House immigration bill, Bush "has been straight on this issue. ... He has been consistent on this issue, which is we have to be compassionate -- this is the part of [being a] 'compassionate conservative' -- to those illegal immigrants in this country." In fact, House Judiciary Committee chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. had accused Bush of "turn[ing] his back" on House Republican efforts on immigration after initially advocating some of the House bill's harshest provisions.
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On the July 5 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, guest host and MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell baselessly asserted that prior to President Bush's recently expressed openness to an immigration bill (H.R. 4437) passed by the House of Representatives, as documented in a July 5 New York Times article, Bush "has been straight on this issue. ... He has been consistent on this issue, which is we have to be compassionate -- this is the part of [being a] 'compassionate conservative' -- to those illegal immigrants in this country." In fact, according to House Judiciary Committee chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI), Bush has not been "consistent on this issue." Sensenbrenner had accused Bush of "turn[ing] his back" on House Republican efforts on immigration after initially advocating some of the House bill's harshest provisions. Moreover, Bush "applaud[ed]" the House's passage of its enforcement-only bill.
As Media Matters for America has previously noted, the White House reportedly advocated the harshest provisions in the House bill, relating to illegal immigrants already inside the United States. Sensenbrenner said that the Bush administration pushed for the bill's provision making illegal presence in the United States a felony, then advocated the reduction of the crime to a misdemeanor in order to facilitate prosecution. From Sensenbrenner's December 16, 2005, floor statement:
SENSENBRENNER: At the administration's request, the base bill makes unlawful presence a crime, such as unlawful entry already is.
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.
On December 16, 2005, Bush issued a statement 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."
"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.'
From the July 5 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, which featured former Republican National Committee chairman and former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III and Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, both of whom also omitted mention of Sensenbrenner's accusation:
O'DONNELL: And let's turn to the other big hot topic of the day, and that was illegal immigration, and the president earlier today went to a Dunkin' Donuts around town here, and not for coffee and doughnuts, but actually to talk about illegal immigration, and here's what he had to say.
BUSH [video clip]: I know there needs to be a worker program that says you can come here on a temporary basis and work here legally for jobs Americans aren't doing.
O'DONNELL: And yet -- and yet, The New York Times reported today on the front page that "Republicans both inside and outside the White House, say Mr. Bush, who has long insisted on a 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." Governor, sounds like the president is caving to his conservative base in an election year.
GILMORE: Well, he should. This needs -- sure, this should be, in fact, an enforcement type of approach. We should secure the borders, but I have an approach that is actually a middle ground between these two places that I think would be better, and that is you should have a registration program for people, but it should not be an automatic path to citizenship. Americans work all over the world as expatriates. People ought to be able to get registered in this country so that we know that they're here, we can actually have control of these illegal immigrants, but they can work here, but it is not an automatic path to citizenship, and then we should move ahead to a more comprehensive reform and embrace reform at a later time.
O'DONNELL: This is a president who, since when he was governor of Texas, said family values do not end on the Rio Grande River, which separates Texas from Mexico. He has been straight on this issue with you all, he has been consistent on this issue, which is we have to be compassionate -- this is the part of "compassionate conservative" -- to those illegal immigrants in this country.
GILMORE: I don't disagree with that.
O'DONNELL: Well, it sounds like now --
GILMORE: I don't disagree with that.
O'DONNEL: -- he's willing to get a deal with the House and give up what has been his long position on this issue, just in order to please conservatives in an election year.
ROSEN: That sort of middle ground that the governor just talked about is actually very close to what the Senate bill, the bipartisan Senate bill, does, and the fact is that the president's own party in the Republican-led House has said, "Forget it, Mr. President, you're not getting your way." He has no choice. If he wants a bill, which he has, you know, again staked his presidency on this past year, he went on national television -- the only way he's going to get a bill is to make those House Republicans happy. Last session, his major legislative reform was Social Security, he failed miserably because he didn't listen to the Congress. This year, he risks doing that again unless he listens to the right wing of the party.
ROSEN: No, not by all Americans. I think Americans do want a solution to this problem, but they actually believe the president's right when he says, "You know what? What are we going to do? Just take all these people and figure out a way to send them back or to punish them permanently? That's simply not going to work."
GILMORE: I agree with that.
ROSEN: And so, it is in the Republican -- the hard right's interest to characterize a compromise that exists in the Senate as being too easy on immigration.